Characterizing Learning Environments Capable of Nurturing Generic Capabilities in Higher Education



There has been wide recognition that today’s graduates need the type of generic capabilities necessary for lifelong learning. However, the mechanism by which universities can develop these generic skills is not clearly established. This study aimed to investigate the mechanism for their development. Structural equation modeling (SEM) was used to test a hypothesized model of capability development through a suitable learning environment with 1756 undergraduates at a university in Hong Kong. To triangulate against this model and more fully characterize the learning environment, focus group interviews were held with five to six students from three programs with good records of capability development. Analysis of the interview data resulted in a set of categories, describing a learning environment, which were consistent with the SEM model. The learning environment which seemed conducive to capability development aimed for understanding of key concepts through a variety of assessment methods and active engagement in learning activities. Teacher–student relationships were developed through interaction, feedback and assistance. The promotion of peer–student relationships led to a high degree of collaborative learning.


active learning assessment collaborative learning generic capabilities learning environments qualitative & quantitative analyses teacher–student relationship 


  1. Aulich, S. T. G. (Chair) (1990). Priorities for reform in higher education. Report of the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Training. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.Google Scholar
  2. Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry & Business Council of Australia (2002). Employability skills for the future. Canberra: Department of Education, Science and Training.Google Scholar
  3. Barrie S. C. (2004). A research-based approach to generic graduate attributes policy. Higher Education Research and Development, 23(3):261–275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bentler P. M. (1990). Comparative fit indexes in structural models. Psychological Bulletin, 107:238–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bentler P. M. (1995). EQS: Structural Equations Program. Multivariate Software, Encino, CAGoogle Scholar
  6. Biggs J. (1999a). Teaching for Quality Learning at University: What the Student Does. Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press, BuckinghamGoogle Scholar
  7. Biggs J. (1999b). What the student does: Teaching for enhanced learning. Higher Education Research and Development, 18(1):57–75Google Scholar
  8. Brady L. (1990). Curriculum Development 3rd ed. Prentice Hall, SydneyGoogle Scholar
  9. Browne M.W., Cudeck R. (1993). Alternative ways of assessing model fit. In: Bollen K. A., Long J. S. (eds) Testing Structural Equation Models. Sage, Newbury Park, CA, pp. 136–161Google Scholar
  10. Candy P. C., Crebert R. G. (1991). Lifelong learning: An enduring mandate for higher education. Higher Education Research and Development, 10(1):3–18Google Scholar
  11. Chapman A. (1999). Theoretical and practical integration of literacy and numeracy in a university academic program. Teaching in Higher Education, 4(3):363–382Google Scholar
  12. Confederation of British Industry (2000). In search of quality in schools: The employers’ perspective. Confederation of British Industry,, viewed on 23 October 2004
  13. Conference Board of Canada (2000). Employability skills 2000+. Conference Board of Canada,, viewed on 23 October 2004
  14. Daly W. T. (1994). Teaching and scholarship: Adapting American higher education to hard times. Journal of Higher Education, 65(1):45–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. de la Harpe B., Radloff A., Wyber J. (2000). Quality and generic (professional) skills. Quality in Higher Education, 6(3):231–243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Education Commission (1999). Learning for life. Hong Kong Special Administrative Region: Education Commission.Google Scholar
  17. Feldman K. A. (1976). The superior college teacher from the student’s view. Research in Higher Education, 5:243–288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Feldman K.A. (1996). Identifying exemplary teaching: Using data from course and teacher evaluations. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 65:41–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fraser B. J. (1998). The birth of a new journal: Editor’s introduction. Learning Environments Research, 1:1–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hattie J, Biggs J., Purdie N. (1996). Effects of learning skills interventions on student learning: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 66(2):99–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hu L., Bentler P. M. (1999). Cutoff criteria for covariance structure analysis: Conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling, 6(1):1–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Jackson N. (2000). Program specification and its role in an outcomes model of learning. Active Learning in Higher Education, 1(2):132–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Johnstone D. B. (1994). College at work: Partnerships and the rebuilding of American competence. Journal of Higher Education, 65(2):168–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kelly A. V. (1999). The Curriculum: Theory and Practice 4th ed. Paul Chapman, LondonGoogle Scholar
  25. Kember D., Leung D. Y. P. (2005a). The influence of active learning experiences on the development of graduate capabilities. Studies in Higher Education, 30(2):155–170Google Scholar
  26. Kember D., Leung D. Y. P. (2005b). The influence of the teaching and learning environment on the development of generic capabilities needed for a knowledge-based society. Learning Environments Research, 8:245–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kember D., Armour R., Jenkins W., Lee K., Leung D. Y. P., Li N., Murphy D., Ng K. C., Siaw I., Yum J. C. K. (2001). Evaluation of the Part-time Student Experience. The Open University of Hong Kong, Hong KongGoogle Scholar
  28. Leckey J. F., McGuigan M. A. (1997). Right tracks—wrong rails: The development of generic skills in higher education. Research in Higher Education, 38(3):365–378CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Leung D. Y. P., Kember D. (2005). The influence of the part time study experience on the development of generic capabilities. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 29(2):91–101Google Scholar
  30. Longworth N., Davies W. K. (1996). Lifelong Learning. Kogan Page, LondonGoogle Scholar
  31. Marsh H. W. (1987). Students’ evaluations of university teaching: research findings, methodological issues, and directions for future research. International Journal of Educational Research, 11:253–388CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Marton F., Hounsell D., Entwistle N. (1984). The Experience of Learning. Scottish Academic Press, EdinburghGoogle Scholar
  33. Medlin J., Graves C., McGowan S. (2003). Using diverse professional teams and a graduate qualities framework to develop generic skills within a commerce degree. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 40(1):61–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Miles M. B., Huberman A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: an expanded sourcebook. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CAGoogle Scholar
  35. Norusis M. J. (2002). SPSS11.0 Guide to Data Analysis. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJGoogle Scholar
  36. O’Neil H. F., Allred K., Baker E. (1997). Review of workforce readiness theoretical frameworks. In: O’Neil H. F. (ed.), Workforce Readiness: Competencies and Assessments. Lawrence Erblaum Associates, New Jersey, NY, pp. 3–26Google Scholar
  37. Oliver R., McLoughlin C. (2001). Exploring the practice and development of generic skills through web-based learning. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 10(3):207–225Google Scholar
  38. Pascarella E. T., Terenzini P. T. (1991). How College Affects Students: Findings and Insights from Twenty Years of Research. Jossey-Bass, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  39. Pintrich P. R. (1995). Understanding self-regulated learning. In: Pintrich P. R. (ed.), Understanding self-regulated learning. New directions for teaching and learning (Vol. 63), Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, pp. 3–12.Google Scholar
  40. Pintrich, P. R., and Zusho, A. (2002). Student motivation and self-regulated learning in the college classroom. In: Smart, J. C. (ed.), Higher education: Handbook of Theory and Research (Vol. 17), Kluwer, Boston, MA, pp. 55–128.Google Scholar
  41. Prosser M., Trigwell K. (1999). Understanding Learning and Teaching: The Experience in Higher Education. SRHE and Open University Press, BuckinghamGoogle Scholar
  42. Ramsden P. (1987). Improving teaching and learning in higher education: the case for a relational perspective. Studies in Higher Education, 12(3):275–286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Schmitt M. (1996). Uses and abuses of coefficient alpha. Psychological Assessment, 8(4):350–353CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Tait H., Godfrey H. (1999). Defining and assessing competence in generic skills. Quality in Higher Education, 5(3):245–253Google Scholar
  45. Thomas P. R., Bain J. D. (1984). Contextual differences of learning approaches: The effects of assessments. Human Learning, 3:227–240Google Scholar
  46. Yan, L. W. F. (2001). Learning out of the classroom: The influence of peer group work on learning outcome. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.Google Scholar
  47. Yan L., Kember D. (2004a). Avoider and engager approaches by out-of-class groups: The group equivalent to individual learning approaches. Learning and Instruction, 14(1):27–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Yan L., Kember D. (2004b). Engager and avoider behavior in types of activities performed by out-of-class learning groups. Higher Education, 48(4):419–438CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Kember
    • 1
  • Doris Y.P. Leung
    • 1
  • Rosa S.F. Ma
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Learning Enhancement and ResearchThe Chinese University of Hong KongShatinHong Kong
  2. 2.ShatinHong Kong

Personalised recommendations