Innovative Learning

Phenomenography (F. Marton & N. Entwistle)

This conceptual framework focuses on the experience of learning from the student's perspective and is based upon a phenomenological approach to research. Entwistle explains: "Our task is thus to describe more clearly how learning takes place in higher education and to point out how teaching and assessment affect the quality of learning. From these descriptions teachers should be able to draw their own lessons about how to facilitate their students' learning" (Marton, Hounsell & Entwistle, 1984, p.1).

The most important element of this framework is that data be collected directly from learners themselves through self-reports and interviews. Furthermore, the content and setting should be those actually involved in learning. Research based upon the phenomenographic approach has been conducted by a number of individuals at universities in Sweden< and the United Kindom, of which F. Marton and N. Entwistle< are leading proponents.

Phenomenography is related to the work of Pask on learning styles and that of Craik & Lockhart on levels of processing.


The scope of phenomenographic research is focused on learning in higher education. Initial studies focused on student learning experience in reading articles, attending lectures, writing essays, solving problems, and studying; more recent work has examined the cross-cultural aspects of student learning experiences (i.e., papers presented at 6th Annual EARLI conference). Ramsden (1992) provides practical guidelines for teaching based upon this research approach and Frantz,  Ferreira, & Thambiratam (no date) discuss an application to engineering.


The original study conducted by Marton at the University of Gothenburg involved students reading an academic article and then asking them questions designed to reveal how they understood what they read, such as: "Could you describe how you went about reading the text?", "Was there anything you found difficult?", "Did you find it interesting or not?". Student responses were transcribed and these transcriptions formed the basis for analysis. On the basis of this study, Marton concluded that students differed in the way they related to the information in they read (deep versus surface understanding) and how they tried to organize their learning (holistic/atomistic).


  1. Researchers should seek an understanding of the phenomenon of learning by examining the students' experiences
  2. Research about learning needs to be conducted in a naturalistic setting involving the actual content and settings people learn with.


Entwistle, N. & Ramsden, R. (1983). Understanding student learning. London: Croom Helm, 1983.

Frantz, J., Ferreira, L., & Thambiratam, D. (no date). Using Phenomenography to Understand Student Learning in Civil Engineering.

Marton, F., Hounsell, D. & Entwistle, N. (1984). The Experience of Learning. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press.

Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to Teach in Higher Education. London: Routledge.

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