Instructional Science

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 271–285 | Cite as

On the role of discipline-related self-concept in deep and surface approaches to learning among university students

  • Michael J. Platow
  • Kenneth I. Mavor
  • Diana M. Grace


The current research examined the role that students’ discipline-related self-concepts may play in their deep and surface approaches to learning, their overall learning outcomes, and continued engagement in the discipline itself. Using a cross-lagged panel design of first-year university psychology students, a causal path was observed in which students’ Semester 1 deep approach to learning positively predicted their Semester 2 psychology-student social identification; this relationship was mediated by students’ actual Semester 1 learning. Moreover, relatively high levels of Semester 2 psychology-student social identification led to a desire for further engagement in the discipline through an enhanced intent to continue their psychology studies. In contrast, discipline-related self-concept was not observed to act as a precursor to learning approaches. Overall, the current data provide clear evidence not only for the validity of the deep learning approach construct, but for the theoretical claims associating a deep learning approach with an impact on self-concept, and the educational value of encouraging a deep learning approach both for short-term academic performance and for continuing motivation to engage in the discipline.


Social identity Self-concept Approaches to learning Deep learning Surface learning 



We wish to thank Gerlese Åkerlind for her assistance with this paper, and two anonymous reviewers for their critical comments. Ethical approval to conduct this research was granted by the ANU HREC (2008/084). Correspondence should be sent to the first author at the Department of Psychology, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia; FAX: +61 (02) 6125-0499.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael J. Platow
    • 1
  • Kenneth I. Mavor
    • 1
  • Diana M. Grace
    • 2
  1. 1.The Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.The University of CanberraBruceAustralia

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