Higher Education

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 469-488

First online:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university students' conceptions of formal learning and experiences of informal learning

  • Gillian M. Boulton-LewisAffiliated withSchool of Learning and Development, Queensland University of Technology
  • , Ference MartonAffiliated withGothenburg University
  • , David C. LewisAffiliated withUniversity of Queensland
  • , Lynn A. WilssAffiliated withSchool of Learning and Development, Queensland University of Technology

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This paper describes an investigationof conceptions of learning held by 22 Aboriginal andTorres Strait Islander students from threeuniversities in Queensland, Australia. Other areasinvestigated were students' experiences of informallearning, their reasons for studying and thestrategies they used to learn. Research intoconceptions of learning is gaining impetus and currentbeliefs include the premise that approaches tolearning adopted by university students, and hencelearning outcomes, are closely related to theirconceptions of learning. There is substantial researchfocused on Aboriginal learning styles in earlychildhood and primary school which indicates thatAboriginal children prefer to learn in a practical wayas well as through observation and imitation and trialand error. Very little research has focusedspecifically on Aboriginal university students'conceptions of learning. Results of this study foundthat these students view and approach formaluniversity learning in much the same way as otheruniversity students and most hold quantitativeconceptions of learning. The most interesting resultwas the difference between students' conceptions offormal learning and their experiences of informallearning. Many students' experiences of informallearning were grounded in practical activities orexhibited a cultural focus, however, most formallearning is not dependent upon practical or culturalknowledge. It is proposed that formal learning forIndigenous students recognise and include anIndigenous perspective such as integrating, whereappropriate, practical strategies for learning. Wealso suggest that Indigenous students be helped todevelop conceptions that will enable them to learnformal, theoretical material successfully.