How learning designs, teaching methods and activities differ by discipline in Australian universities

Leanne Cameron


This paper reports on the learning designs, teaching methods and activities most commonly employed within the disciplines in six universities in Australia. The study sought to establish if there were significant differences between the disciplines in learning designs, teaching methods and teaching activities in the current Australian context, as was reported in Scott’s Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) analysis (2006). Although it found a broad range of teaching approaches are used in all disciplines, it emerged that there was still some bias toward the traditional discipline stereotypes, which in some cases has been found to negatively affect student engagement.

Additionally, while there was a general awareness amongst study participants about the importance of responding to student evaluations of teaching, improvements to teaching and learning practice were most commonly adopted without reference to current research or professional advice, and rarely was advice sought outside their discipline. Although a small-scale study such as this could not be said to be wholly representative of the higher education sector in Australia, these initial findings might indicate a need for administrators to acknowledge the role of quality teaching in maximising student engagement and its relationship to student retention by encouraging the study of learning and teaching as a routine part of lecturers’ practice.


Learning designs; disciplines; discipline differences

Full Text:



Berthiaume, D. (2009). Teaching in the disciplines. In H. Fry, S. Ketteridge, & S. Marshall (Eds.). A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Enhancing Academic Practice. 3rd. ed.) (pp. 215-225 ). New York: Routledge.

Biggs, J. (2003). Teaching for quality learning at university – What the student does (2nd. ed.). Buckingham, UK: SRHE / Open University Press.

Braxton , J.M. (1995). Disciplines with an affinity for the improvement of undergraduate education. In N. Hativa & M. Marincovich (Eds.), Disciplinary differences in teaching and learning: Implications for practice (pp. 59-64). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Cameron, L. (2013). Giving teaching advice meaning: The importance of contextualizing pedagogical instruction within the discipline. In B. Tynan, J. Willems, & R. James (Eds.) Outlooks and Opportunities in Blended and Distance Learning (pp. 50-65). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-4205-8.ch004

Cashin, W.E., & Downey, R.G. (1995). Disciplinary differences in what is taught and in students’ perceptions of what they learn and of how they are taught. In N. Hativa & M. Marincovich (Eds.), Disciplinary differences in teaching and learning: Implications for practice (pp. 81-92. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ). Data can be retrieved from: /research/surveys/australiangraduatesurvey

Creswell, J.W. (2003). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. (2nd. ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Donald, J. (2002). Learning to think: Disciplinary perspectives. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Donald, C., Blake, A., Girault, I., Datt, A., & Ramsay, E. (2009). Approaches to learning design: Past the head and the hands to the HEART of the matter, Distance Education, 30:2,179 — 199. doi: 10.1080/01587910903023181

Franklin, J., & Theall, M. (1992). Discipline differences: Instructional goals and activities. Measures of student performance, and student ratings of instruction. Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the American Educational Research Association. San Francisco, CA: April 20-24, 1992.

Franklin, J., & Theall, M. (1995). The relationship of disciplinary differences and the value of class preparation time to student ratings of teaching. In N. Hativa & M. Marincovich (Eds.), Disciplinary differences in teaching and learning: Implications for practice (pp. 41-48). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fry, H., Ketteridge, S., & Marshall, S. (Eds). (2009). A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Enhancing Academic Practice (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Garcia, E., Arias, M., Murri, N., & Serna. C. (2010). Developing responsive teachers: A challenge for a demographic reality. Journal of Teacher Education, 61, 132-142.

Greene, J. C., & Caracelli, V.J. (Eds). (1997). Advances in mixed-method evaluation: The challenges and benefits of integrating diverse paradigms [New directions for evaluation (74)]. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gregory, J., & Salmon, G. (2013). Professional development for online university teaching. Distance Education, 34, 256-270.

Kolb, D.A. (1981). Learning styles and disciplinary differences. In A. W. Chickering (Ed.), The modern American college (pp. 232-255). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Light, D. (1974, Winter). Introduction: The structure of the academic professions. Sociology of Education, 47(1), 2-28.

McQuiggan C. (2012). Faculty development for online teaching as a catalyst for change. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16, 27-61.

Neumann, R., Parry, S.. & Becher, T. (2002). Teaching and learning in their disciplinary contexts: A conceptual analysis. Studies in Higher Education, 27, 4, 405-417. doi:10.1080/0307507022000011525

Pike, G., Smart, J., & Ethington, C. (2012). The mediating effects of student engagement on the relationships between academic disciplines and learning outcomes: An extension of Holland’s Theory. Research in Higher Education, 53, 550-575.

Salmon, G., & Wright, P. (2014). Transforming future teaching through “Carpe Diem” learning design. Education Sciences, 4(1), 52-63. doi:10.3390/educsci4010052

Scott, G. (2006). Accessing the student voice: Using the CEQuery to identify what retains students and promotes engagement in productive learning in Australian higher education. Final Report. Barton, Australia: Commonwealth of Australia.

Shulman, L.S. (1986, February). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4-14.

Shulman, L.S. (2005, Summer). Signature pedagogies in the professions. Daedalus, 134(3), 52-59. doi:10.1162/0011526054622015

Stark, J. S., & Lattuca, L.R. (2009). Shaping the college curriculum: Academic plans in context. (2nd. ed). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Tashakkori, A., & Teddlie, C. (1998). Mixed methodology: Combining qualitative and quantitative approaches. Applied Social Research Methods Series (Vol. 46). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Abstract Views:

Article Metrics

Metrics Loading ...

Metrics powered by PLOS ALM


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Contact | Announcements | © Queensland University of Technology | ISSN: 1832-8342