Student characteristic factors, contextual variables and learning approaches of Hong Kong university students: A qualitative study

Po Yin Miranda LAI

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Modern classroom learning models have delineated that student characteristics factors, the teaching context and the learning process all have important influence on learning outcomes. Biggs' 3P model of classroom learning has provided a comprehensive conception of the interrelationships of the various components involved. It has also provided a conceptual framework for many studies in student learning in recent years. Following Biggs' conceptual model, this study investigates students' personality characteristics, the learning context as perceived by learners, the way they go about studying and the influence they cast on achievement outcomes. Previous studies have shown that motivational orientations, self-esteem, and the way students approach their learning have effects on their academic achievement. Contextual factors such as course demand, workload pressure or method of assessment also contribute to the final learning outcomes. A number of studies have investigated the nature and the interrelationships of these variables following the quantitative paradigm. While the quantitative approach provides objective, scientific evidence, the opportunity for probing deeper into the phenomenological experiences of the learners is limited. It was believed that an investigation using a qualitative method would bring more light to the subject under study. This study adopts a qualitative approach making use of interview analysis to tap deeper into the causal attributions, self-concept, perceived environment and learning approaches of Hong Kong university students. The objective was to examine the complexities of these characteristics and their impact on academic achievement. The interview sample consisted of 36 students drawn from the construction and engineering discipline in one of the universities in Hong Kong. Of the 36 students, half were high achievers and half low achievers who represented the top 10% and the bottom 10% range of academic results respectively. The author carried out face-to-face semi-structured interviews with each of the students, the average length of which was about 45 minutes. The interviews were tape-recorded and then transcribed verbatim in Chinese. Each interview started with some general questions which helped the interviewees reflect on their learning at the university. The questions asked were designed to allow for as much expression of personal ideas and feelings as possible. They were interrelated and centred around the broad issues of causal attributions, perceived academic ability or academic self-concept, the ways students go about studying, the perceived learning environment, and the ways to improve future academic performance. Analysis of the interview data revealed that students' causal attributions, self- concept, and learning approaches did not develop in isolation but were closely tied to the learning context especially to the environment as perceived by the students. The findings of the interview study have provided stronger support for a close relationship between causal attributions, self-concept, learning approaches and achievement than evidence from previous quantitative studies. Student learning could be seen as a result of the intricate interplay of student characteristic factors, the learning processes and the contextual influences. The findings also have implications for teaching and learning at university level in Hong Kong.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1998


Lai, P. Y. D. (1998, November). Student characteristic factors, contextual variables and learning approaches of Hong Kong university students: A qualitative study. Paper presented at the Hong Kong Educational Research Association (HKERA) 15th Annual Conference: Quality Education Across Disciplines, Systems and Regions, Hong Kong Baptist University, China.


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