Students' studying and approaches to learning in introductory biology

Debra Tomanek, Lisa Montplaisir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


This exploratory study was conducted in an introductory biology course to determine 1) how students used the large lecture environment to create their own learning tasks during studying and 2) whether meaningful learning resulted from the students' efforts. Academic task research from the K-12 education literature and student approaches to learning research from the postsecondary education literature provided the theoretical framework for the mixed methods study. The subject topic was cell division. Findings showed that students 1) valued lectures to develop what they believed to be their own understanding of the topic; 2) deliberately created and engaged in learning tasks for themselves only in preparation for the unit exam; 3) used course resources, cognitive operations, and study strategies that were compatible with surface and strategic, rather than deep, approaches to learning; 4) successfully demonstrated competence in answering familiar test questions aligned with their surface and strategic approaches to studying and learning; and 5) demonstrated limited meaningful understanding of the significance of cell division processes. Implications for introductory biology education are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-262
Number of pages10
JournalCell Biology Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2004


  • College
  • Introductory biology
  • Learning
  • Performance assessment
  • Studying

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Cell Biology


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