Ellis, Robert (2007) Work, identity, learning styles and the implications for teaching and learning in UK Higher Education. A case study of foundation year students. In: 5th International Conference on Researching Work and Learning, 2-5 December 2007, Cape Town, South Africa. (Unpublished)

This article stems from a Learning Styles research project taking place within the School of Applied Sciences at the University of Huddersfield, a Higher Education Institution (HEI) in the North of England. The aim of this research is to explore Learning Style theories and to assess whether the employment of one or more of them at ‘year zero’ level of degree courses will improve the student learning experience. The theme of transition is a central part of this research. This paper on work and careers is a result of initial quantitative and qualitative research undertaken with the 2006/7 group of Science Foundation (SF) students. SF students are, rather confusingly, classified as pre-foundation students or year zero students by the University. This same classification describes undergraduates as year one or foundation year students. The successful completion of SF leads to the opportunity to continue studying as an undergraduate at Huddersfield or to enrol at another HEI, which recognises SF as an entry route for undergraduate study. At this stage, it is important to point out that SF does not form part of the work based Foundation Degree framework launched by the UK government in 2001 (DfES: www.foundationdegree.org.uk, See also, Webb, Brine and Jackson, 2006, pp.565-6). Nevertheless, like these qualifications, the admission policy for SF is focussed on widening participation and the majority of students hail from the town of Huddersfield and its local authority area of Kirklees. Around the town centre of Huddersfield, especially in the built environment, there is evidence of investment. In the Newsome ward, which includes areas in and around the centre, however, there are places that are in the top ten per cent of the most deprived areas in England (Kirklees MDC, 2006). This socially diverse picture is reflected in the student intake. In the academic year 2004/5, 29% of SF students were classed as ‘mature’, that is over the age of 21. In the previous academic year this figure was as high as 52%. Again in 2004, White females were the predominant student group. In terms of ethnicity, a total of 27% of those enrolling on the course in 2004 described themselves as one of the monitoring categories under the broader heading of either Asian or Black. This figure is relatively high considering the 2001 Census for England and Wales showed that 14.4% of the general population of Kirklees and 9.1 percent of the population of England described themselves under one of the non-White categories (Office of National Statistics, 2001). In addition to this social and cultural diversity there is a mix in terms of previous educational achievement and, partly due to some of the age differences, a mix of employment experiences. And, like Access to Higher Education (HE) courses, usually delivered in a Further Education (FE) setting, SF attracts students from non disadvantaged backgrounds (Waller, 2006, p.120). Recognising this diversity is important, not least because of the potential impact that it has on the introduction, or otherwise, of Learning Style theory into the curriculum. A recent report by Frank Coffield et al has questioned the efficacy, or otherwise of Learning styles intervention. Overall, the tone of the report was critical, arguing that claims made about their impact do not always stand up to close scrutiny. The report argues that learning professionals are ‘duty bound’ to consider the possibility that Learning Style intervention may have the effect of making the teaching and learning environment worse (Coffield et al, 2003, p.52). Despite this recent critique, practitioners continue to employ different theories and instruments and research in the area continues to be disseminated and discussed (www.elsinet.com).

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