A learning facilitation framework to enhance academic skills development among underprepared learners in South African higher education
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The research presented in this thesis is concerned with understanding underpreparedness, a phenomenon which is inextricably intertwined with the current South African higher education dilemma of poor throughput and high attrition rates. Considering the increased access to higher education institutions, a continuous need exists for ways to scaffold the underprepared student to succeed. For this reason a learning facilitation framework based on empirical research and current understanding about the potential benefits of engaged learning is presented. Based on descriptive-exploratory research, perspectives on underpreparedness experienced by higher education institutions in South Africa and in other countries are disclosed. The thesis focuses on what is meant by underpreparedness; factors contributing to underpreparedness; the domains of underpreparedness; and the typical circumstances underprepared students find themselves in. These four focus areas were in the first place investigated by means of a literature review to capture existing knowledge and research and, in the second place, by a questionnaire survey and structured interviews. These different interpretations and dimensions provided an opportunity for diverse perspectives on underpreparedness to be encompassed and enveloped, thereby becoming a basis not only for the framework recommended, but also for future research or initiatives to improve teaching and learning. In a search for educational approaches considered effective in dealing with underprepared students, research mainly focuses on three key concepts, namely general perspectives on the existing constraints of facilitating the learning of the underprepared; the perceived educational effectiveness of different educational approaches; and the significance that is coupled to interactive engagement. The overarching aim of this investigation was the identification of educational approaches that lessen the impact of underpreparedness on student learning. The thesis also discusses some of the findings identified by an action inquiry into reflective teaching. Reflective practices have the potential to improve teaching competence, a gain that will ultimately lead to improved student learning. In addition, the benefits of concept mapping were investigated through both quantitative and qualitative observation techniques. The quantitative and descriptive data presented indicate that concept mapping contributed not only to achieving efficiency, but also to conceptual development. The researcher sees these positive outcomes as effects of both the active generation of knowledge through the act of mapping and the social interaction during the collaborative concept map task. The findings of this investigation confirm works by others that indicate that the use of concept mapping as a teaching/learning tool can lead to achievement gain, meaningful learning and, ultimately, conceptual change. Moreover, there may also be an increase in self-regulation, selfefficacy, a deep learning orientation, and motivation traits that are highly sought after to assure academic success in the underprepared student. The framework presented centres around learning facilitation strategies deemed effective in scaffolding the underprepared students ability to learn in mainstream courses. These learning facilitation strategies seek to delineate teaching approaches that advance learners' ability to learn more effectively. These learning principles, theories or practices are divided into several elements clustered into six domains of learning facilitation strategies, namely cooperative, generative or constructive, reflective, experienced, interactive and conceptual learning. Although the domains are unique, they are also interrelated: Reflection (reflective learning) stimulated by a learning event (experience-based learning) in a social context (cooperative learning) which leads to the construction (constructive learning) of knowledge. The framework intends to act as a guide or source for higher education educators and practitioners who want to improve their teaching effectiveness in dealing with the underprepared.