Doesn't everybody desire the same skills and knowledge?


Ultimately, a student must choose to seek out new inforamtion or refine their skills. A student's personal epistemology, what an individual believes about the nature of knowledge and how knowledge is formed has a profound impact on how that student will approach learning, develop cognitively, and succeed academically.

Many students have simplistic epistemologies, and view knowledge as absolute and comprised of many unrelated components. For such students the source of knowledge is often an authority – an instructor or a text. They do not have a constructivist view of knowledge formation.

More sophisticated students see knowledge as tentative, related, and structured, and believe they can construct knowledge.


In nearly all contexts, researchers have shown that a student’s personal epistemology correlates with academic success. For example, Ryan showed that the more students believe in simple knowledge, the more likely they are to equate factual recall with comprehension.1


In fact, most physics courses show a degradation of values about learning and science. Using the Maryland Expectations Survey, Redish has found that students' move away from the desired, expert-like values.2


When I attempted to correlate student's personal epistemologies with their learning, FCI normalized gain, I found a peculiar relationship. With one of the courses last year, there was a large, but not significant, inverse correlation with normalized gain.  Those who learned more physics had less favorable responses on the self-regulated learning questions.3


    1. M. P. Ryan, “Monitoring Text Comprehension: Individual Differences in Epistemological Standards”. J. Educ. Psych., 1984. 76(2): p. 248-58.
    2. E. Redish, J. Saul, and R. Steinberg. "Student expectations in introductory physics" Am. J. Phys. 1998, 66, p212.
    3. The questions largely come from the Motivated Strategies of Learning Questionnaire J. Educ. Psych. 1990, 82 (1), p. 33-40
      • I work on practice exercises and questions even when I they are not assigned for class.
      • During class time, I often miss important points because I'm thinking of other things.
      • When reading for a course, I make up questions to help focus my reading.
      • When I become confused about something I'm reading, I go back and try to figure it out.
      • If course materials are difficult to understand, I change the way I read the material.
      • Before I study new material thoroughly, I often skim it to see how it is organized.
      • I ask myself questions to make sure I understand the material I have been studying.
      • I try to change the way I study in order to fit the course requirements and the instructor's teaching style.
      • I often find that I have been reading for a class but don't know what it was all about.
      • I try to think through a topic and decide what I am supposed to learn from it rather than just reading it over when studying.
      • When studying, I try to determine which concepts I do not understand well.
      • When I study, I set goals for myself in order to direct my activities in each study period.
      • If I get confused taking notes, I make sure I sort it out afterwards.