Measuring approaches to learning in a problem based learning context

Diana H. Dolmans1, Ineke H. Wolfhagen1 and Paul Ginns2

1Department of Educational Development and Research, Maastricht University, The Netherlands

2Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney, Australia

Submitted: 26/05/2010; Accepted: 28/07/2010; Published: 30/07/2010

Int J Med Educ. 2010; 1:55-60; doi: 10.5116/ijme.4c50.b666

© 2010 Diana H. Dolmans et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use of work provided the original work is properly cited. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Objectives: Students in Problem-Based Learning (PBL) are assumed to adopt a deep learning approach and not a surface approach. This study investigated: 1) the reliability and validity of version of the Revised Study Process Questionnaire adapted to the PBL context (PBL-R-SPQ) and 2) the extent to which PBL students use deep or surface approaches, and whether this differs between first and second year students.

Methods: The items of the R-SPQ were reformulated to better fit with a PBL environment, resulting in the PBL-R-SPQ. In total 262 students from MaastrichtMedicalSchool responded to the PBL-R-SPQ.

Results: A Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) demon-strated that a 9-item Deep Approach scale and a 9-item Surface Approach scale fitted the observed set of data well. Cronbach alphas for the Deep and Surface scales were 0.76 and 0.74, respectively. First year students reported signifi cantly higher Deep Approach scores (M = 3.60, SD = .48) than second year students (M = 3.40, SD = .48) (p = .001, d = .42). Conversely, second year students reported signifi-cantly higher Surface Approach scores, (M = 2.45, SD = .48) than first year students (M = 2.26, SD = .52) (p = .003, d = .38).

Conclusions: The 18-item PBL-R-SPQ provides a valid and reliable tool to measure students' learning approach in PBL. In addition, PBL students tended to adopt a deep approach rather than a surface approach, which is in line with the assumptions behind PBL, although the second year students have a somewhat less deep approach than the first year students.