Background. In separate studies and research from different perspectives, five factors are found to be among those related to higher quality outcomes of student learning (academic achievement). Those factors are higher self-efficacy, deeper approaches to learning, higher quality teaching, students’ perceptions that their workload is appropriate, and greater learning motivation. University learning improvement strategies have been built on these research results.
Aim. To investigate how students’ evoked prior experience, perceptions of their learning environment, and their approaches to learning collectively contribute to academic achievement. This is the first study to investigate motivation and self-efficacy in the same educational context as conceptions of learning, approaches to learning and perceptions of the learning environment.
Sample. Undergraduate students (773) from the full range of disciplines were part of a group of over 2,300 students who volunteered to complete a survey of their learning experience. On completing their degrees 6 and 18 months later, their academic achievement was matched with their learning experience survey data.
Method. A 77-item questionnaire was used to gather students’ self-report of their evoked prior experience (self-efficacy, learning motivation, and conceptions of learning), perceptions of learning context (teaching quality and appropriate workload), and approaches to learning (deep and surface). Academic achievement was measured using the English honours degree classification system. Analyses were conducted using correlational and multi-variable (structural equation modelling) methods.
Results. The results from the correlation methods confirmed those found in numerous earlier studies. The results from the multi-variable analyses indicated that surface approach to learning was the strongest predictor of academic achievement, with self-efficacy and motivation also found to be directly related. In contrast to the correlation results, a deep approach to learning was not related to academic achievement, and teaching quality and conceptions of learning were only indirectly related to achievement.
Conclusions. Research aimed at understanding how students experience their learning environment and how that experience relates to the quality of their learning needs to be conducted using a wider range of variables and more sophisticated analytical methods. In this study of one context, some of the relations found in earlier bivariate studies, and on which learning intervention strategies have been built, are not confirmed when more holistic teaching–learning contexts are analysed using multi-variable methods.