Students' conceptions of constructivist learning in different programme years and different learning environments
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Background: Constructivist views of learning have brought conceptions of learning to attention again. Conceptions are considered important determinants of effective learning. Students can differ in their conceptions depending on their educational experience. Aims: The present study investigated students' conceptions of constructivist learning. Do students with greater experience in their academic programme differ in their conceptions of constructivist learning compared to students with less experience? In addition, to what extent are conceptions of constructivist learning different in a conventional, lecture-based curriculum compared to a constructivist, problem-based learning curriculum? Samples: Three groups (i.e. first-year, second-year, and third-year students) in two different curricula (i.e. conventional, lecture-based and constructivist, problem-based) were tested. Methods: A cross-sectional design was used. Students' conceptions of constructivist activities (i.e. knowledge construction, cooperative learning, self-regulation, use of authentic problems, self-perceived inability to learn, and motivation to learn) were measured by a questionnaire. Data were analyzed using a two-way multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA). Results: A significant difference in questionnaire's scores between year 1 and year 2 (but not between year 2 and 3) was found with respect to conceptions about knowledge construction, self-regulation, and the use of authentic problems, but not for cooperative learning and motivation to learn. For self-perceived inability, an interaction effect was found. Furthermore, results showed significant differences between both curriculum groups on all dependent measures. Conclusions: Differences in conceptions can be perceived between students who enter a new learning programme (i.e. higher education) and students who already have one year of experience in higher education. Among students with more than one year of educational experience, differences disappear. Furthermore, this study shows that the learning environment can make a difference with respect to students' conceptions of constructivist learning activities.