From deep and surface approaches to a mechanism of learning

A brief account of phenomenography and variation theory

The notion of deep and surface approaches to learning had a profound impact on higher education some 40 years ago. It was also the origin of the phenomenography research tradition, which was later complemented with variation theory. The core of the research tradition, primarily articulated by Ference Marton, has been characterised by distinctive results and has successively undergone shifts in focus, from first investigating qualitatively different ways in which students perceive phenomena in the world, on epistemological grounds inspired by phenomenology, to developing a model of learning predicating variation as the basic mechanism of learning, and then asking questions pertaining to how the variation necessary for the learner to discern may be facilitated in the classroom and by the teacher.

In this talk Åke Ingerman will give an account for and a perspective on how the early research, which in many ways took a common sense-approach to why people understood the same thing differently, ended up making claims of what are necessary conditions of learning, and suggesting on empirical basis for how teaching may be arranged to facilitate learning that makes a difference.

Åke Ingerman is a visiting scholar at the International Centre for Classroom Research, Science of Learning Research Centre, and Melbourne Graduate School of Education from January to May, 2015. He is normally based at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and has been part of the research group where phenomenography originated for the last 10 years. His main research focus concerns classroom research in science and technology. He is currently collaborating with David Clarke and his team on the SLRC project: "The Social Unit of Learning."


Thursday 12 March, 4–5pm
Theatre Q219
Level 2, 234 Queensberry Street
Melbourne Graduate School of Education
The University of Melbourne

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