2013. Vol.4, No.1, 44-49
Published Online January 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/psych) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/psych.2013.41006
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
The Relationship between Students’ Conceptions of Learning
and Their Academic Achievement
Ghorban Hemati Alamdarloo1, Shahram Moradi2, Gholam Reza Dehshiri3
1Faculty of Psychology and Education, Shiraz University, Shiraz, Iran
2Department of Behavioral Sciences and Learning, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden
3Faculty of Psychology and Education, Alzahra University, Tehran, Iran
Received October 7th, 2012; revised November 5th, 2012; accepted December 2nd, 2012
This study investigates the relationship between pre-university students’ conceptions of learning with
their academic achievement. The sample consisted of 309 students (165 males and 144 females) in Tehran
city. Among them, 104 individuals were in Mathematics, 110 in Experimental Science, and 95 in Litera-
ture (Humanities). The participants were selected through multistage cluster sampling. To assess their
conceptions of learning, Purdie and Hattie’s (2002) questionnaire was used, and to measure their aca-
demic achievement, the total mean of high school diploma was considered. The results showed a signifi-
cant relationship between students’ conceptions of learning and their academic achievement. There is also
a meaningful relationship between students’ number of conceptions of learning and their academic achi-
Keywords: Conceptions of Learning; Academic Achievement; Pre-University Student
Learning is a complex process that is not easily defined.
Perhaps the most famous definition of learning is as follows:
Learning is almost as table changing process in behavior or
behavioral power that is the result of experience, and it is not
attributed to a temporary state of one’s body like what is cre-
ated as the effect of disease, tiredness, or drug use (Seif, 2008).
This definition does not consider the various cognitive proc-
esses used in learning or personal, social, and emotional aspects
of it (Entwistle & Peterson, 2004). For example, Klatter, Lode-
wijks, and Aarnouste’s (2001) opinion poll indicated that peo-
ple have different ideas about learning, in which some point to
learning consequences, some to learning necessities, and others
to learning purposes.
These various and adjoining dimensions of learning lead to
the idea that learning is a multidimensional construct (Peterson,
Brown, & Irving, 2010). This characteristic of multidimension-
ality allows students to hold differentconceptions of learning
(Dart et al., 2000). Conceptions of learning are defined as a
learner’s ideas and beliefs about learning (Lai & Chan, 2005).
Since conceptions of learning are formed by the learner’s cul-
tural values (Hong & Salili, 2000), six basic conceptions of
learning are recognized across different cultures and societies
such as the United States, Australia, Malaysia (Purdie & Hattie,
2002), China (Lai & Chan, 2005), and New Zealand (Peterson
et al., 2010).They are such as follows: learning as gaining in-
formation, learning as remembering and using information,
learning as a duty, learning as personal change, learning as a
process not bound by time or place, and learning as the devel-
opment of social competence.
The researchers divided conceptions of learning on a hierar-
chical continuum as surface or quantitative versus deep or
qualitative learning conceptions (Boulton-Lewis, Marton, Lewis,
& Wilss, 2000). Quantitative conceptions of learning include the
gaining and restructuring of information, whereas qualitative
conceptions contain the understanding of meaning and personal
change (Purdie & Hattie, 2002). Marton, Dall’Alba, and Beaty
(1993) proposed that the six conceptions of learning are hierar-
chical; the first three conceptions emphasize learning quantita-
tive material, and the last three focus on qualitative material as
well as the role of meaning in learning. Learning as gaining
information is at the lowest level in the conceptions of learning
hierarchy, whereas learning as an individual’s personal change
and development is at the highest level (Lai & Chan, 2005).
Purdie and Hattie (2002) believed that when students’ con-
ceptions of learning are high in the hierarchy, they have better
learning and greater academic achievement. To support this
theory, Watkins (1984, cited in Allan, 2003) and Watkins and
Stilla (1982, cited in Allan, 2003) revealed that a relationship
exists between the depth of students’ conceptions of learning
and their academic achievement, such that the deeper the stu-
dents’ conceptions of learning are, the higher these conceptions
are in the hierarchy and the better their academic achievement.
Additionally, Mclean (2001) declared that there is a rela-
tionship between students’ conceptions of learning and acade-
mic achievement. In this regard, Allan (2003) concluded that
students’ conceptions of learning can thoroughly predict their
academic achievement. Moreover, Boulton-Lewis et al.’s (2000)
finding showed that there is a strong relationship between stu-
dents’ conceptions of learning and their learning results.
Congruent with these research findings, Entwistle and Peter-
son (2004) found that there is a significant relationship between
deep learning with high academic function and surface learning
with weak academic function. Overall, these studies reveal that
students’ conceptions of learning affect their learning motive-
tion, the cognitive strategies they select, and their academic
achievement (Hong & Salili, 2000; Purdie et al., 1996).
G. H. ALAMDARLOO ET AL.
To support their theories, Purdie and Hattie (2002) claimed
that there is a relationship between the number of students’
conceptions of learning and their academic achievement, such
that the greater the numbers of students’ conceptions of learn-
ing, the better their academic achievement.
Purdie and Hattie (2002) showed that the mean scores of
students who have six conceptions of learning are considerably
higher than the scores of those who do not have any. Therefore,
according to conceptions of learning theory, there is a relation-
ship between the number and level of students’ conceptions of
learning and their academic achievement. Previous studies have
analyzed conceptions of learning in various countries, but no
direct research on this topic has been carried out in Iran. Un-
derstanding conceptions of learning in Iran is an important
topic, as cultural differences influence students’ conceptions of
learning (Purdie & Hatti, 2002), and Iran differs culturally from
the other countries where conceptions of learning have been
studied. In addition, the methods used to assess student learning
in Iran are different as well. In Iran, assessment methods are
based on quantity methods and scores (0 - 20), where a higher
score indicates better academic achievement. Thus, the study of
the relationship between Iranian students’ conceptions of learn-
ing and their academic achievement offers cultural insights that
have not yet been achieved by previous studies. This research
seeks to answer the following questions.
Is there any relationship between conceptions of learning and
academic achievement for pre-university students in Iran?
Which conceptions of learning play a significant role in pre-
dicting the academic achievement of pre-university students?
The research method was descriptive, and the statistical
population consisted of all the pre-university students who were
studying in Tehran in 2006-2007. A sample of 309 students
(165 boys and 144 girls) was selected through multistage clus-
ter sampling. Among them, there were 104 students in Mathe-
matics, 110 in Experimental Science, and 95 in Literature
(Humanities). For the sampling, two districts (Districts 7 and 11)
were selected among the 19 areas of Tehran. Then, a list of
pre-university centers in selected areas was prepared, and one
center was randomly selected from each area of girl and boy
pre-university centers (4 centers total). Then, through reference
to the selected centers and coordination with school adminis-
trators, students who wanted to participate in the study were
selected. The selection process took into account the participants’
satisfaction and willingness to volunteer. In addition, the partici-
pants were made aware of the purpose of the research and the
study process. They were assured that all their information would
remain confidential. The participants were 16 - 20 years old with
a mean age of 17.39 and standard deviation of .78.
Conceptions of Learning Questionnaire
The Conceptions of Learning Questionnaire by Purdie and
Hattie (2002) consists of 32 items and 6 subscales as follows:
learning as gaining information (5 items), learning as remem-
bering and using information (9 items), learning as a duty (3
items), learning as a personal change (8 items), learning as a
process not bound by time or place (3 items), and learning as
the development of social competence (4 items). The items
were rated on a 6-point Likert scale from 1 “agree” to 6 “dis-
agree.” The participants were requested to assess their success
on the scale. The scores of subscales were calculated with the
total scores of questions in the related subscales. The results of
confirmative factorial analysis revealed that the 6-factorial
structure of the questionnaire was suitable for the students
(Purdie & Hattie, 2002).
In this study, participants’ total mean of high school diplo-
ma was used as an indicator of academic achievement. The
total mean of high school diploma consists of students’ scores
in special lessons determined by Iran’s Ministry of Education.
These lessons are different in each field of study as follows:
Mathematics (Arithmetic, Geometry 2, Algebra, Chemistry 3,
Physics 3, Religion and Life, Literature, and English and Ara-
bic Language); Experimental Science (Biology 3, Chemistry,
Mathematics, Religion and Life, Literature, English and Arabic
Language, and Statistics); and Literature (Religion and Life,
Literature, English and Arabic Language, and Contemporary
History). These exams are given throughout the country in the
last year of high school. They are administered by the Ministry
of Education and are a standard criterion for assessing aca-
Table 1 shows means of variables used in this study. As seen
in the Table 2, the correlations of all conceptions of learning
with academic achievement are significant. The weakest corre-
lation is related to the conception of learning as a duty (r =
0/28), and the strongest to the conception of learning as per-
sonal change (r = 0/36).
Table 3 shows the results of step-by-step regression analysis
in order to investigate which conceptions of learning have a
significant role in predicting academic achievement. As ob-
served in the first step, the conception of learning as the devel-
opment of social competencies explains 15% of the variance in
academic achievement [F(1, 307) = 53.65, p < .001, R2 = .15].
In the second step, the conceptionof learning as a process not
bound by time or place was entered into the equation in which
thecoefficient of determination increased to 17% [F(2, 306) =
30.94, p < .001, R2 = .17]. Other variables were not entered in
the equation because they do not play a significant role in pre-
dicting academic achievement.
To investigate whether the numbers of conceptions of learn-
ing and academic achievement are related or not, first, partici-
pants were divided into two groups, those with conceptions of
learning and those without, based on the mean of each concep-
tion of learning. Then, the numbers of conceptions of learning
were calculated from 0 to 6. Table 4 shows the mean and stan-
dard deviation of academic achievement on the basis of the
number of conceptions of learning. Participants’ academic achi-
evement mean on the basis of the number of their conceptions
of learning were compared using ANOVA.
As seen in the Table 5, there is a significant difference
among academic achievement means on the basis of the num-
ber of conceptions of learning [F(6, 302) = 11.76, p < .0001)].
To assess which two groups differed significantly, a Scheffe
test was used to compare academic achievement on the basis
of the number of conceptions of learning. The results are
shown in Table 6. As seen in the table, the mean of academic
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 45
G. H. ALAMDARLOO ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Means and standard deviations (SD) of the research variables.
Variable Mean SD Minimum Maximum
Academic achievement 16.51 2.02 10.12 19.96
Learning as gaining information 20.42 5.31 5 30
Learning as remembering and using information 38.29 10.55 10 54
Learning as a duty 12.30 3.23 3 18
Learning as personal change 33.78 9.73 8 48
Learning as a process not bound by time or place 12.28 2.99 3 18
Learning as the development of social competence 16.53 4.24 4 24
Matrix of conceptions of learning and academic achievement.
Variable 1 2 3 4 5 6
1—Academic achievement 1
2—Learning as gaining information 0/33*1
3—Learning as remembering information 0/34*0/82* 1
4—Learning as a duty 0/28*0/66* 0/66* 1
5—Learning as personal change 0/36*0/79* 0/82* 0/69* 1
6—Learning as a process not bound by time or place 0/33*0/71* 0/66* 0/59* 0/78* 1
7—Learning as the development of social competence 0/37*0/68* 0/66* 0/66* 0/76* 0/72*
*p < .01.
Results of step-by-step regression of academic achievement based on conceptions of learning.
variable B SEB β R R2
Learning as a
0/18 0/02 0/39* 0/39 0/15*
Learning as a
0/11 0/04 0/23*
Step 2 Learning as a
process not bound
by time or place
0/14 0/05 0/21*
*p < .01.
Mean and standard deviation of academic achievement on the basis of number of conceptions of learning.
Number of conceptions of learning Mean SD Numbers
0 15.28 2.12 51
1 15.96 2.24 19
2 15.89 1.98 14
3 16.14 1.79 26
4 16.08 1.89 30
5 16.92 1.64 50
6 17.54 1.83 119
G. H. ALAMDARLOO ET AL.
Results of ANOVA.
Changing resources Sum of squares Freedom degree Sum of squares mean F Sig.
Intergroups 232.89 6 38.69
Intragroups 993.89 302 3.29
Total 1226.08 308 -
Results of a Scheffe test to compare academic achievement on the basis of the number of conceptions of learning.
Group Compared group Mean difference Sig.
1 −.68 .92
2 −.61 .93
3 −.86 .87
4 −.79 .73
5 −1.64 .003
6 −2.26 .001
2 −.07 .99
3 −.17 .99
4 −.10 .99
5 −.95 .70
6 −1.58 .05
3 −.24 .99
4 −.18 .99
5 −1.03 .48
6 −1.65 .008
4 −.07 .99
5 −.78 .91 3
6 −1.40 .27
5 −.85 .66
6 −1.47 .22
5 6 −.62 .66
achievement among participants who had no conceptions of
learning is significantly less than those who had five or six
conceptions of learning. Additionally, the mean of academic
achievement among participants with one or two conceptions of
learning is significantly less than the mean of those with six
conceptions of learning.
Discussion and Conclusion
The purpose of this research was to study the relationship
between students’ conceptions of learning and their academic
achievement. The findings showed there is significant relation-
ship among all the conceptions of learning and academic
achievement. Among different conceptions of learning, learning
as a process not bound by time or place and learning as the
development of social competence have a significant role in
predicting academic achievement. This finding is congruent
with Mclean’s (2001) findings, which showed that there is a
relationship between students’ conceptions of learning and their
Furthermore, it is consistent with the findings of Purdie and
Hattie (2002), who argued that the higher the level of students’
conceptions of learning is in the hierarchy, the better their
learning. Moreover, the study findings are congruent with
Boulton-Lewis et al. (2000), Entwistle and Peterson (2004), and
The significant role of learning as a process not bound by
time or place and learning as the development of social compe-
tence in academic achievement prediction may be attributed to
the students selecting better methods for learning. In this regard,
Zhu, Valcke, and Schellens (2006) concluded that learning as a
process not bound by time or place and learning as the devel-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 47
G. H. ALAMDARLOO ET AL.
opment of social competence have a positive and significant
relationship with deep and strategic methods but a negative and
significant relationship with surface methods. To confirm these
findings, Ellis, Goodyear, Calvo, and Prosser (2008) concluded
that students who have deeper conceptions of learning score
considerably higher on tests in their final year of study than
students who have only surface conception of learning.
Consistent with the mentioned findings, different studies have
concluded that students who have a higher level of conceptions
of learning select better methods for learning and have higher
academic achievement (Ellis et al., 2008; Cano & Cardelle-
Elawar, 2004; Dart et al., 2000; Norton & Crowley, 1995).
Here, it is inferred that high academic achievement by students
who choose learning as a process not bound by time or place
and learning as the development of social competence can may
be explained by their selection of deeper and better methods of
learning. Therefore, we can infer that these conceptions of
learning make learners show more flexibility in their thinking,
as they process the information more actively and learn con-
ceptually. These research findings suggest that, in order to in-
crease students’ academic achievement, educational content
must be practical and used daily. If educational content is pre-
sented in a way that continuously involves students in real and
natural situations, guiding them to independency and self-effi-
cacy, then their conceptions of learning will be deeper and
higher. Therefore, educators must offer opportunities for stu-
dents to engage with society and the realities outside of school
and to prepare successfully for social life. This means that if
education and learning help students learn how to live in the
real world, develop healthy relational skills with their peers and
adults, and become active citizens in both school and society
through meaningful experiences in the society, working and
engaging in appropriate activities, and receiving continuous
support and feedback from the environment, then the students’
conceptions of learning will improve. In fact, if the student’s
educational schedules emphasize skill development in real life
environments, we can predict that the students will have better
The second research aim is to examine the relationship be-
tween the number of students’ conceptions of learning and their
academic achievement. As shown in Table 4, there is a signifi-
cant difference between students’ academic achievement mean
on the basis of the number of their conceptions of learning,
such that the mean academic achievement of participants who
have five or six conceptions of learning is significantly higher
than that of those who do not have any conceptions of learning.
This is consistent with Purdie and Hattie’s (2002) findings
showing that the more conceptions of learning students have,
the higher their academic achievement is. The findings of this
study are also congruent with Purdie and Hattie (1999). Purdie
and Hattie (2002) demonstrated that there is a strong relation-
ship between the number of students’ conceptions of learning
and their academic achievement. Based on the findings of this
study, it can be concluded that students who have higher aca-
demic achievement have multiple conceptions of learning
rather than just one. In fact, students who have multiple con-
ceptions of learning select different methods for learning. They
integrate qualitative and quantitative approaches to learning and
use various methods, paying attention to learning conditions
and subject difficulty level (Lee, 1998). Lin and Tsai (2008)
believe that students who have multiple conceptions of learning
use a higher level of cognitive and metacognitive strategies and
thinking skills, such as self-monitoring, and select different
problem-solving strategies that are effective in their academic
achievement. Thus, it can be inferred that students who have-
multiple conceptions of learning use a combination of various
learning methods to achieve academic success. In light of this
research finding, we should encourage students to understand
learning as a process of personal change, learning as a process
not bound by time or place, and learning as the development of
social competence. Further, we must help students to be re-
sponsible for their own learning and to learn more strategically.
Moreover, we must foster an environment that encourages
students to have an interior motivation for learning. Addition-
ally, to convey deeper conceptions of learning, we should for-
mulate clear learning goals and purposes and relate educational
materials directly to students’ previous knowledge as well as to
the learning goals. In addition, it is suggested to hold discussion
groups on both learning contents and learning processes. Stu-
dent learning should emphasize different approaches to prob-
lems and topics, and assessment should focus on the students’
conceptual understanding of the material. Finally, it is sug-
gested employ practical strategies to change students’ concep-
tions of learning from surface conceptions to deep ones. Occu-
pational education should be emphasized, class topics should be
clearly related to real environments, instruction must be based
on the society, career instruction must be combined with the
teaching of life skills, and finally, education must be presented
with an emphasis on adult outcomes.
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