Approaches to Learning or Levels of Processing: What Did Marton and Säljö (1976a) Really Say? The Legacy of the Work of the Göteborg Group in the 1970s

Richardson, John T. E. (2015). Approaches to Learning or Levels of Processing: What Did Marton and Säljö (1976a) Really Say? The Legacy of the Work of the Göteborg Group in the 1970s. Interchange, 46(3) pp. 239–269.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10780-015-9251-9

Abstract

Marton and Säljö (1976a) described deep-level and surface-level processing in experiments in which students read and recalled academic texts. They did not discuss whether levels of processing had any counterparts in students’ everyday studies. However, their article is often credited as the source of the distinction between deep and surface approaches to learning in students’ academic studies. It is also sometimes credited as the source of the research method known as “phenomenography.” These incorrect accounts are attributed to Marton and Säljö’s subsequent writings, which promoted the use of “approaches to learning” in order to characterize differences in the process of learning in both artificial experiments and academic studying and also promoted the use of “phenomenography” to refer to any form of rigorous qualitative analysis involving the identification of categories of description and the relationships between them. Even so, there is an important conceptual, theoretical, and methodological distinction between students’ levels of processing in specific tasks and their approaches to learning in their academic studies. Marton and Säljö’s article served to illuminate the former but did not discuss the latter. The only correct source of the notion of approaches to learning in students’ academic studies in higher education is a different paper by Marton (1976c). Citing Marton and Säljö’s article as the source is not only inaccurate but obscures important aspects of their methodology.

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