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Modules 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11


Understanding the Higher Education Learner

Reflect on the following as you work through this Module

The Forum of students associations in Africa formulated the following proposals for action, which constitute the students’ vision on the role of higher education in the construction of a new society.




  • Article 10. Higher education personnel and students as major actors

    c. National and Institutional decision-makers should place students and their needs at the centre of their concerns, and should consider them as major partners and responsible stakeholders in the renewal of higher education. This should include student involvement in issues that affect that level of education, in evaluation, the renovation of teaching methods and curricula and, in the institutional framework in force, in policy-formulation and institutional management. As students have the right to organise and represent themselves, students' involvement in these issues should be guaranteed.

  • Introduction

    An understanding of the characteristics and needs of the learner is a key factor for success in higher education. Using an agricultural analogy, knowledge of the nature of the soil and climatic conditions of a farming area is an important ingredient for success for the farmer. As yield is dependent on such data, so is the effectiveness of teaching largely dependent on the nature of the learner. We need to factor into instructional planning, such learner variables as demographics (e.g. age and gender), psychological characteristics (e.g. motivation and self-concept), sociological characteristics (e.g. friendship and social linkages), cultural background, religious affiliation, quality of preparation at the secondary school level, marital status and family background.

    It is probably a tall order to ask the lecturer to know these characteristics for every student in the class. In a class of 200 for a term of twelve weeks or a semester of fifteen weeks, it is obviously a steep task. However, it is possible even for a larger number of students and for a shorter period, to attempt an understanding of the general profile of the class on these characteristics. Armed with these profiles and with the knowledge of outlying cases, the higher education teacher can then meaningfully plan and implement a course of instruction for students.

    In this module, you will

  • q review the status of the learner in transition from secondary to higher education;

    q identify the psychosocial characteristics of learners in higher education;

    q describe the factors affecting the psychosocial development of higher education learners;

    q develop instruments for measuring some learner characteristics; and

    q identify the exit profile of the learner.

  • UNIT 1


    Secondary education is over. With the necessary entry requirements and funds, it is now time to proceed for further studies within the higher education sub-system. The port of call could be a University, Technikon/Polytechnic, College of Education or other institution that falls within the higher education description. The shift from secondary to higher education begins with a period of transition. The transition period is characterised by a lot more freedom – no more school uniforms, assembly at 8.00 a.m., lights out, punishment by seniors and inhibition from attending parties. Prospective higher education learners bring with them various social and educational experiences. We expect that our interventions would foster desirable changes in behaviour and enhance positive characteristics. Improved understanding of our learners’ antecedents at the point of entry would help us select appropriate educational experiences as well as provide adequate guidance and counselling services.

    At the end of this Unit you will be able to:

  • q describe the academic and social antecedents of the higher education learner;

    q determine the factors which impact on the learner’s ability to learn; and

    q assess the selection/admission procedures of your institution and department.

  • The Concept of Transition

    The formal education system in all countries of the world is segmented into cycles – primary, secondary and higher. Within each cycle, there is movement from one level to another e.g from primary 1 to 2 or from secondary class 2 to 3. This is intra-cycle transition. There is also inter-cycle transition. This is from primary to secondary or from secondary to higher education. As the learner moves from one level or cycle to another, there are changes that are noteworthy for the teacher.

    At the period of transition, there are physical, psychomotor, socio-affective, emotional, intellectual (cognitive) and aspirational changes. As lecturers, we want to take the learner through the change process in a smooth, gradual and painless way. We want the interphase between the end of secondary education and the freshman year to blend. No bumps, no dramatic shifts and no agonising changes. To achieve this, we need a deep understanding of the characteristics of learners at the two poles – end of secondary education and the fresh student year.

    In Box 1.1 is a summary of the findings of a self-report survey of a final year secondary school student. Similar data are presented – Box 1.2 for a fresh student in a university after a week of lectures.

    Academic and Social Antecedents of the Higher Education Learner

    Who are prospective higher education learners? The majority are young male and female adults aged between 16-26 years who have had 12-14 years of formal education. They would have obtained the school leaving certificate with the minimum pass grades to earn them places in higher educational institutions. As primary and secondary school pupils, their academic and social life would have been organised and sometimes regimented by principals, teachers, and prefects. They would have been expected to obey laid-down rules and regulations without question as well as recognise and respect the school’s hierarchical structure of authority. Those who may have had the privilege of attending boarding schools would have experienced even greater management of their time and indeed of their lives. Graduates of single-sex schools often have additional problems of adjustment in their interactions with the opposite sex.

    Our learners’ typical school day could be broken into several very short periods during which various subjects would be taught in typically under-resourced classrooms, and by teachers with extremely low morale. With few exceptions, the learners would have been exposed to predominantly traditional methods of learning and teaching. These will be discussed in detail in Module 3.

    With regard to assessment, the educational system of most countries now favour continuous assessment. The message that emerges is that schools are about testing. This has implications for learners’ attitudes towards learning and teaching. An important part of our learners’ school experience is the rather frequent strikes by teachers who feel over-worked and under-paid and are justifiably demoralised. Our adult learners would have lost several school hours and learned much less than they should have because of such strike actions. Parents who can afford it would arrange private lessons for their children to make up for inadequacies caused by strikes or "go slow". Even more devastating is the experience of some adult learners in war-torn areas, for example, Liberia and Sierra Leone where educational opportunities came to a stand still for long periods.


    Higher Education in Francophone Africa

    Ousseynou DIA


    The responses of higher education to a changing world should be guided by three watch words which determine its local, national and international standing and functioning, relevance, quality and internationalization. "UNESCO Policy Paper for Change and Development in Higher Education" Executive Summary, Section V. In the context of these new orientations, every higher education policy should fit into the particularly complex social dynamics of the training and/or research institutions (Universities, Teacher Training Colleges, Institutions…) that have interfaces with secondary or "pre-university" education on the one hand and with the world of work and the development concerns of the States on the other. Set at the extremities of the educational system, these two entities exert pressure and lay down conditions that cannot be ignored. Hence, such a policy will emanate from a dynamic compromise between the external demands and the tasks which the states assign to these institutions.

    In this regard, the relevance of higher education should be perceived in terms of its role and place in society, its mission as regards training and research and the resultant services. It should also be seen in terms of its linkages with the world of work (in the widest sense), its relationship with the State and sources of funding as well as its interactions with other levels and forms of education.

    Holders of the "Baccalaureat" (Advanced Level School Certificate) continue to knock at the doors of universities thereby creating qualitative and quantitative problems at that level. Three questions have become topical issues in many countries: What is the real standard of the baccalaureate holders? Does this profile correspond with the standards envisaged through the secondary school syllabus? At present, the Baccalaureat serves as school leaving certificate and passport to higher education. Should these two functions be separated? How is the transition to higher education operated? Is there a direct access or a kind of selective admission or controlled admission?

    Downstream, i.e at the end of the higher education studies, the number of graduates knocking at the doors of the labour market in a legitimate search for employment raises other issues in both qualitative and quantitative terms as well: how many graduates does the labour market require? What should be their profiles and in which fields? Do graduates of higher education have the requisite qualification for employment?

    Set between the two extremities is the higher education process characterized by its own internal problems of which a few aspects determining its relevance, efficiency and the quality of its training will be mentioned through the educational policy objectives of the states which have achieved independence since 1960 (i.e to become credible institutions, train competent professionals for development, organize development-oriented research, render services to the community and diversify graduate profiles and training programmes).

    However, under the impact of significant external trends (economic globalization, high population growth rates, technological innovations and serious financial constraints), the higher educational institutions are now in crisis in a crucial phase of their development. Beyond the negative trend (decline in the internal and external training efficiency) the basic issue is to know what type of institution the states need. Generally speaking, there is an urgent need for higher educational reform for the purpose of maintaining and strengthening quality standards among other concerns. It is more than necessary to develop a new perception of education and training in order to adapt and enhance the system’s relevance, efficiency and quality.

    Excerpted from:

    Dia, O (1998). Quality of Higher Education in Francophone Africa. In J. Shabani (Ed.). Higher Education in Africa: Achievements, Challenges and prospects. Dakar: UNESCO BREDA.

    Summarise the main points in Dia’s paper. Comment on his view that there should be a match between the profile of the higher education learner and the world of work.

    Lifelong Higher Education For All in Sub-Saharan Africa

    Juma SHABANI



    In the last two decades, the trend of higher education in Sub-Saharan Africa was mainly characterized by a rapid increase in student enrolments and financial constraints that culminated in a decrease in public expenditure per student. In most developing countries, higher education is the education sector that experienced the most rapid expansion in the course of the last two decades. During that period, student enrolments in higher education was much faster in Sub-Saharan Africa than in any other part of the world.

    However, in spite of this rapid increase in enrolments, certain indicators showed that, of all the regions of the world, Sub-Saharan Africa presents the least developed system of higher education.

  • (i) Higher education enrolment ratios: In 1993, the enrolment ratios of the 18 to 23 age group was 2.4% in Sub-Saharan Africa against 18 in Latin America, 13.2% in the Arab States, 8.2 in South-Eastern Asia and 51 in the developed countries.

    (ii) Number of students per 100,000 inhabitants: In 1991, this number exceeded 5,000 in North America and 2,500 in practically all the developed countries. In Sub-Saharan Africa, this ratio was less than 100 students per 100,000 inhabitants, which means that the chances of young people pursuing higher education were 25 times lower in Sub-Saharan Africa than in the developed countries.

  • These figures suggest that Sub-Saharan Africa should increase student enrolments considering, especially, the ever-growing demand for access to higher education, and the established correlation between the development of higher education and socio-economic development. However, it seems that such a strategy should not be implemented within the current structures of higher education if African countries do not want to worsen the decline in the quality of education and graduate unemployment. Actually, taking into consideration the job saturation in the civil service, the low level of development of the private sector and the rapid changes in the job market, it seems that in the near future, demands for higher education will mainly focus on the training of entrepreneurs, the updating of knowledge and upgrading of skills for trained personnel. Under the circumstances, a good portion of higher educational institutions should be organised as centres for lifelong education for all for the purpose of updating and improving knowledge and academic qualifications. It is noticed that the increase in enrolments did not occur at the same pace in the different regions of Sub-Saharan Africa. It was much faster in French-speaking Africa. Indeed, between 1960 and 1983, the enrolments were multiplied by 40 in French-speaking Africa and by only 16 in the English-speaking countries..

    The rapid increase in student enrolments in the Francophone countries is due to the combined effect of at least four factors namely:

  • - the rapid increase in the number of secondary school leavers;

    - the lack of selection at the time students enter universities;

    - the low internal efficiency;

    - the generous student-aid policy which encourages students to extend their stay at university because of the uncertainty of finding job upon completion of the courses.

  • Of course, such a quantitative expansion should be matched with a corresponding increase in infrastructures, facilities, teaching staff and scientific and instructional materials so as to meet the requirements of quality with respect to training and research. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. For example, during the 1991-92 academic year the University of Yaounde in Cameroon, which opened its doors in 1960 with 500 students, had 45,000 students with facilities planned for 5,000. In Francophone Africa, it is usual to see a lecture hall designed for 800 students crammed with as many as 3,000. It is also noteworthy that such lecture halls hardly provide an enabling environment for teaching as they have more in common with markets or sports stadia than with places for reflection. Under the circumstances, access to knowledge is largely determined by the students’ ability to arrive 3 or 4 hours in advance to occupy the best place so as to hear the lecturer.

    As a result of the limitation of academic infrastructures and shortage of human and material resources, the quality of education has declined. Indeed, several institutions were already forced to cancel practical and field work. More recently, the University of Benin in Lome, Togo decided to cancel the requirement of a master’s thesis at the end of University studies at the Faculty of Economics and Management.

    Excerpted from:

    Shabani, J. (1998). Lifelong Higher Education for All in Sub-Saharan Africa. In J. Shabani (Ed.). Higher Education in Africa: Achievements, Challenges and Prospects. Dakar: UNESCO BREDA.

    Examine the merits and demerits of Shabani’s position on increasing access to higher education and compare with Dia’s position in Reading 1.1. on matching access with available job opportunities.

    Factors Affecting Learning

    During the period of transition, the freshman brings in several characteristics and attributes that could impact on learning. Some of these characteristics and attributes are discussed in this section.

    Home background

    Many learners come from a rural setting. Some have grown up in polygamous homes characterised by many children and scarce resources. They would speak one or more of the indigenous language as well as English, French or Portuguese which are major media of teaching and learning in higher education in Africa. The language question has further implication because education in a foreign language places the learner at a disadvantage. He or she is required to master that language before battling with content in education. The decline in proficiency in English in anglophone Africa has hampered teaching and learning.

    A small group would come from the middle class and would have experienced the benefits of growing up in urban areas. Some in this group would have travelled widely outside their homeland and had access to information and various forms of educational materials and technology. Some others would have enjoyed the benefits of pre-school education and would be proficient in English, French or Portuguese.

    A very small percentage of learners would have had post-secondary school work experience in either the private or the public sector. They would therefore have acquired skills, which would serve them well in their future learning. Further they would have had greater control of their lives and resources than learners who enter higher educational institutions at a younger age.


  • 1 State whether or not the above discussion has encouraged you to modify your perception of learners in the first year.

    2. Discuss your reactions with members of staff of a discipline other than your own

  • Impact of prior experiences on the learner’s learning

    Contrary to popular opinion, our learners are not blank states on which imprints can be made, nor are they empty vessels to be filled. On entry, they would normally have knowledge and skills acquired from their earliest socialisation in appropriate means of constructing the world around them and creative approaches to solving problems. Further they are expected to be largely at the Piagetian stage of formal operations in their cognitive development and could therefore be expected to operate at that level .

    These positive gains notwithstanding, experience shows several deficiencies which could constrain the ability or desire of higher education learners to function effectively in the learning/teaching situation in institutions of higher learning . For example, they are expected to manage their time as well as do independent work (conduct investigations in their areas of study). They must also have a view of learning which emphasises construction of knowledge, creativity and problem solving. Their school experiences, characterised by external controls, traditional teaching and learning styles (notably rote learning) and threatening learning environments have certainly not prepared them to take responsibility for their learning.

    With regard to their readiness for work at higher institutions, attention has already been drawn to the deficiencies which result from time lost in strikes and "go slow". Lost time means that syllabuses are not adequately covered. In addition, poorly qualified, non-resourceful teachers ensure that the learning that takes place falls far short of what is required at that level. Further to augment their salaries, some teachers teach certain topics only during private lessons so that those pupils who cannot afford such classes are deprived of relevant knowledge. The nature of the school leaving examinations has the tendency to encourage regurgitation of rehearsed opinion and dictated notes rather than evidence of ability to analyse and synthesise. This impedes the ability to apply knowledge, think critically, solve new problems by responding in creative ways and reflect on their learning. This situation sends wrong messages to the students and create enormous obstacles for learners who gain admission to institutions of higher learning.

    A point that must not be ignored as we consider the nature of our adult learners, particularly those under twenty is their possible inability to handle emotional and other adjustment problems because of their stage of development. While several of the problems envisaged could be handled in guidance and counselling sessions. The lecturer would certainly have to devise relevant learning/teaching strategies to ease the learners transition from secondary to higher education.

    Most of learners’ behaviours on entry can be explained with reference to their background. Can you think of instances where other factors would have to be explored ?

    State as many adjustment as you can that you might have to make in your teaching style to meet the learning needs of the new learner in your discipline.

    Selection/Admission criteria and procedures

    All institutions of higher learning in Africa have selection procedures designed not only to ensure that only the best of candidates are admitted, but also because of constraints imposed by diminishing financial resources, deterioration and inadequacy of the physical structures and inadequate staffing of departments. As a general rule, prospective learners have to meet university requirements, which may be credit in five subjects including English and Mathematics, in the appropriate international examination. Some departments may also demand a high level of attainment in certain subjects other than those preferred by the learners to facilitate good performance in the major areas. This means that merely meeting matriculation requirements does not always guarantee learners a place.

    Some institutions, notably Nigerian universities, administer a general university entrance examination, conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). Success in this examination may earn a candidate a place in one university, but not necessarily in another because admission is offered on the basis of level of performance. Another university college until recently sent interview panels to the schools in the major towns to recruit learners and guide them in their choice of disciplines. Finance continues to be one of the biggest constraints because not all parents can afford the cost of education at the level and governments are no longer willing to bear the cost alone. However, in some countries like Nigeria, tuition is free for higher education in federal institutions.

    A recent phenomenon is the Remedial Initiative for Female Teachers (RIFT) at Gambia College, the Gambia, which is intended to correct the gender balance in education by helping adult female learners who cannot meet the selection criteria to do so by the end of the programme. These learners are admitted on the basis of performance in a special college examination. They are then given remedial course of the programme to increase their chances of passing the international school leaving examination before certification. There are other reported instances of admission of learners who are under qualified at the beginning but who became highly proficient after attending specially arranged remedial classes.

    The major constraints in Francophone universities are space and finance. Once learners obtain the baccalaureat, they are qualified to enter any institution of higher learning, except the so-called "Grande Ecoles" which impose additional requirements. However, as with their anglophone counterparts, the Government cannot award scholarships to all qualified students and so a significant proportion of students fail to take advantage of higher education provisions.

    At this point, it is worth mentioning the affirmative actions at Makerere University, Uganda, and the University of Dar-Ed-Salaam in Tanzania. As Shabani (1997) remarked, "…at the university of Dar-Es-Salaam, female candidates are admitted at up to 1.5 points lower than male candidates but not lower than the university entry requirement. As a result, the enrolment percentage for girls rose from 17% in 1995/96 to 29% in 1996/97.

    Selection procedures are also influenced by equity and gender issues, societal demands in terms of human resources, and the need to give access to education to special groups for example military personnel and their dependants. Provision is also made in some institutions for mature learners. To satisfy these and similar categories universities often have to take affirmative action. The process of selection/admission can therefore be seen as evolutive, based on the priorities of the period.


    Do you think the selection/admission criteria and procedures are fair, given the paucity of educational outlets for the school leaver?

  • · What would you say are some of the arguments for retaining or modifying the current criteria and procedures. How far do you support or oppose them?

    · Would you agree that if we must select at all our criteria should be less stringent especially as some of our rejects do well in foreign lands?


    Paris, October 8, 1998 {No.98-219} –

    Students from around the world voiced their fears, frustrations and hopes during a lively panel titled "Higher Education for a New Society: A Student Vision," held at UNESCO during this week’s World Conference on Higher Education.

    Baroness Tessa Blackstone, Minister of State for Education and Employment (UK), moderated the first two panels of the debate and warned participants she intended to restrict it to students. The students responded en masse, enumerating concerns that ranged from freedom of expression to exclusion of students based on their ethnic origin, gender, disabilities or inability to pay tuition.

    Most students, both on the panel and in the audience, advocated fair access to education financing and urged governments to continue funding state university systems. "Investing in education is equal to investing in the future," said Danish panellist Peter Søndergaard, representing the National Unions of Students in Europe. Students also pressed for more of a say in education policy and university administration. But it was clear from students’ comments that problems in some countries are far more basic. Representatives from Angola and the Autonomous Palestinian Territories reminded the audience that students in their countries were still dying in gunfire. "We are also seeking to disseminate a culture of peace among university students," said Abdallah Al Najjar of the General Union of Arab Students. "Professors are badly paid and they have other things to do" - besides proctoring exams and showing up for class - said panellist Florence Nsumbu. Her group, the Mouvement International des Etudiants Catholiques in the Democratic Republic of Congo, tries among other things to pressure professors to do their jobs.

    Both male and female students worried that women and girls do not have adequate access to education in many developing countries. "Tradition restricts girls’ access to education," said panellist Agus Salim of the International Forestry Students Association in Indonesia. "People in rural areas think that girls are there to handle the kitchen," he added. Panellist Rajia El-Huseini of the Union of Progressive Youth (Egypt), pointed out that only 35 percent of university students in her country are female, while girls and women make up more than half the population.

    An "Entrepreneurs" panel focused on the transition from university to the world of work. Panellists, including several successful recent graduates, urged universities to include practical experience during the course of study through for-credit internships and work-study programs.

    Roughly 300 students from non-governmental organisations as well as national student unions and international student movements were accredited to the Conference. The student representatives submitted a set of recommendations to the UNESCO drafting committee early in the week but do not know which of their suggestions will be incorporated into the final Declaration to be adopted on Friday. Many students eager to share their enthusiasm attended the debates, but not all were able to talk in the time allotted. Most of the students generally thanked UNESCO for letting their voices be heard during a conference with massive participation of ministers. But they also voiced hope that government ministers would take their concerns into consideration when drawing up the Declaration and Framework for Priority Action. UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor, responding to the general concern that an affordable education be guaranteed to all people, encouraged the audience: "Dare to share." He added that the Conference’s main aim was to ensure higher education institutions do provide an education for those who are denied one. "Don’t feel excluded," he said. "Now you can catch the next train."

    In her closing remarks, Baroness Blackstone said that while she was "very moved and touched by the (students’) idealism (...), there is no free education. Somebody has to pay." She left open the question of how to organise an equitable system of financing higher education.

    Student representatives reiterated their main goals and gripes during a news conference today. Recalling that education is a "fundamental human right" that should be provided by the state, a panel of eight representatives of student organisations from all over the world said its goal was to improve what they called the "lack" of financing, of free access to education and of participation in university administration. In a statement read aloud by Kathrine Vangen of the National Union of Students in Europe, the students summed up their concerns: "We would like to assert the right of all students to autonomous representation and recognition. (...) We are not clients, apprentices or passive objects of education; but rather, we are active partners in our learning and contribution to society."



    Psychological factors are normally resident within the learner. These include intelligence, motivational level, self-concept and emotional traits. Sociological factors on the other hand, are usually resident within the external environment. The environment in this case includes the family, peer and the community. Sociological factors include family background, peer group influence, school setting and societal expectation. The interaction between these two groups of factors (psychosocial) is important in student learning (see Fig. 1.2).

    On completion of this unit you will:

  • q use knowledge of psychosocial characteristics to diagnose learning difficulties;

    q assess learners behaviour on the basis of their biodata of adult learning;

    q identify psychosocial characteristics of adult learners;

    q indicate how these might impact on learning and teaching; and

    q carry out exercises on adult learners’ characteristics that are related to learning/teaching issues in your subject area.

  • Biodata of the adult learner

    The focus of the previous unit was on learners’ background and antecedents as a way of determining their degree of readiness for higher education. In this Unit we shall consider their characteristics with emphasis on the psycho-social, to see:

  • a) how far these reflect their background; and

    b) how they might affect learning and teaching in higher education

  • Fill in the sample questionnaire below those characteristics of the students in your class you deem important for better understanding of the students.

    Some biodata of our hypothetical learners could look like what we have in the box below:

    Box 1.3

    Age 16 - 26 and over

    Gender - about 10% of 90% male

    It is assumed that the learners in the 16-year bracket would be those from privileged homes who have had the benefit of early schooling and an excellent education. Those in the 26-year bracket would have sought employment after school for one of several reasons.

  • · their parents could not afford to pay for them in the absence of state scholarships,

    · on the job training was required for admission into the Faculty ;

    · little motivation to pursue higher education earlier.

  • With regard to the distribution of learners along gender lines, the box reflects the general picture (see Module 8). However it must be noted that in higher education institutions in Swaziland women out-number men. Similarly in some of the Eastern States in Nigeria, women show more interest in education than men. In Sudan, there are single sex universities. We might consider what new problems of learning and teaching this might cause and how they could be overcome.

    Most of our learners would not have reached the stage of maturity in all areas required for higher education. Indeed in previous decades some of them would have been considered children. However, we must bear in mind that our learners are not homogeneous. Even though the above characteristics can be generalised, there could be marked individual differences among members of any given group. This has implications for learning and teaching which will be explored further.

    Psychosocial Characteristics

    While some researchers urge updating of research in psychology for better understanding of the adolescent in Africa, others have concluded that there is little correlation between psycho-social characteristics and performance at the higher education level (UNESCO, Report on the State of Education in Africa, 1997). However, what is clear, from casual observation is that psycho-social characteristics do provide some general explanation of learners behaviour. We might also look in other areas for explanations which might be helpful in illuminating learner characteristics. As you work through this section you might give some thought to this.

    The following list represents some of the areas that should be explored in relation to the learners psychosocial characteristics on entry into higher education:

  • · cognitive development

    · learning patterns preferences/patterns

    · social development

    · motivation

    · expectations

    · attitudes

    · friendship patterns and linkages

    · self-perception/esteem.concept

    · political orientation

    · religious orientation

    · beliefs and world view

    · values

    · psychology of learner’s unrest

  • This list is not exhaustive. You can make additions from your experience

    From your understanding of learners’ background experiences indicates in a tabular form what is characteristic of them in each of the areas. For example, for "learning patterns" which is second on the list you might have, "learning by rote" and for "motivation" and for "social development", anti-social. When you get to the end of your list react to the pattern that emerges

    Points to consider 1.2.

  • 1. In your view could the above have any bearing at all on learning and teaching? How?

    2. In your opinion should studies of learner characteristics be left only to faculties of education, sociology and psychology departments in particular?

  • Determinants of Psychosocial Characteristics

    The dominant characteristics of our adult learners in any given period have their roots in the environment in which they live. The nature of this environment is itself determined by the prevailing internal and external factors. Okebukola (1996) characterises pre-70’s learners as being more mature, having a better attitude to work and being highly motivated, in contrast to learners of today who are portrayed as less mature, having a poorer attitude to work and being poorly motivated. This marked difference reported by Okebukola (1997), can be explained with reference to the relatively stable and enabling environment of the earlier period .

    Table 1.1

    Relationship between learner characteristic and his environment

    Environment Characteristics

    pre 70s

    Post 70s
    Stable and enabling More mature, better attitude to work, highly motivated  
    Unstable   Less mature, poor attitude to work, poorly motivated


    You may wish at this point to reflect on (a) the post 70’s environment and suggest some factors which have influenced it and (b) relate these factors to the psychosocial characteristics of our learners

    Another category of determinant is hereditary/biological factors which can also have a significant influence on learning and teaching although this influence may not be as crucial to the group as to a small percentage of its members. Hereditary/biological factors can either hamper or accelerate the learning process. Factors that could exert a negative influence include physical disability, mental retardation, diseases, for example, sickle cell anemia. A high intellectual co-efficient on the other hand and a healthy body could have very positive effects on the learners’ learning.


    Have you ever used hereditary/biological explanations for learners’ behaviour in the teaching/learning context? How might such considerations influence your behaviour in specific situations, for example, raising self-esteem or satisfying the learning needs of both high and low IQ members of your group?

    Below is a list of some of the other factors which may impact on learner characteristics. It is by no means exhaustive and you are encouraged to make addition.

    Factors affecting psychosocial characteristics:

  • · Socio-economic

    · National economy

    · Global economy

    · Socio-cultural

    · Peer group

    · Political climate

    · Migration

    · Historical factors/colonisation

  • Let us examine some of these factors closely. (You are encouraged to discuss the others with colleagues in your Department).

    Socio-economic Factors

    An important factor which could significantly influence learner behaviour is the socio- economic status of their parents and indeed of people in their community. Let us take the case of a learner who is born of illiterate subsistence farmers. Such a learner is likely to have lived on the edge of poverty where the social services of the state do not penetrate. The learner’s home background would not only be polygamous but it would also be part of an extended-family structure. This typical socio-economic background would certainly have negative effects on that learner’s learning experience. Lack of adequate financial support and necessary learning materials would be frustrating on the one hand and might lead to poor motivation and general disenchantment on the other.

    As indicated in Unit 1, there is a small percentage of learners who come from a more privileged socio-economic background. We can well imagine the feeling of anger which could sometimes erupt in violence, generated by the stark division between the  "haves" and the "have nots" in any given learning situation.

    National Economy

    The national economy of most African countries is unstable with huge external debts, high rates of inflation and both a dependent and a declining currency (Nwana 1996) Neo-colonialism symbolised by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund control most of the national economies in the region and structural adjustment programmes imposed by such bodies spell even more hardship for the least developed nations. Our hypothetical learner is affected by the low status of the country’s economy. Structural adjustments mean that the price of essential commodities will rise stretching the ever-dwindling financial resources to its limits.

    Whatever else may be the impact of this factor, it is true that an ailing economy cannot provide adequate support for education. The learners become disgruntled because neither their parents nor the institution can provide a facilitating environment for them. This may engender in them a poor attitude to work and indifference to higher learning. More importantly, it might create a reversal of values as was and still is the case in Sierra Leone where the survival of the individual is placed above the collective good. Of even greater concern is the general decline of values and specifically the devaluing of the benefits to be got from education. The following anecdote shows one instance of this: A young man in his thirties who had acquired a lot of wealth was asked whether he did not experience any feelings of inadequacy because he had left school in Form IV. The young man quickly replied that his only regret was that he had not left in form two, since no amount of education could have provided the affluence which he now enjoyed. Many adult learners have to combine learning with other activities to meet their financial needs. The impact of this on their learning could be enormous. Lecturers at this level would have to create situations to motivate such learners.

    Historical factors/colonialism

    One factor which will continue to exert its negative influence for a long time to come is the colonial experience of the region. As a colonised people we came to see ourselves through the eyes of the coloniser, whose purposes were served by diminishing our culture, customs, traditions and our ability to respond creatively to problems which affect us. In recent decades we have tried to liberate our minds with some measure of success. Our educational systems which are based on European models have suffered from this experience. We have tended to tinker with them rather than overhaul them, and this only to accommodate changes approved for use, for example in Britain and France. Instructional methods handed down from generation to generation are still current in some of the countries - a case in point is rote learning, which is encouraged by dictation of notes. The lecturer will have a mammoth task, fighting this phenomenon which stifles creativity in our learners.

    The Socio-Cultural Factor

    This is a strong factor which could influence learner behaviour. For instance higher education lecturers in societies with strong Islamic tradition should not be surprised to receive from the higher education learner demand to respect time for Jumat prayer on lecture or examination time table or request for permission to suspend studies to be able to perform hajj. Higher education lecturers should take cognisance of socio-cultural behaviours of the learners in his dealing with them.

    Peer Group

    Peer group influence is a very strong factor influencing learners behaviour. Due to peer pressure many higher education learners have become drug addicts, chain smokers and cultists etc. They engage in all these because they want to be acceptable to their peers, they want to impress the opposite sex and they wish to be recognised by the school authority. The deplorable state of the learning environment of many African Institutions of Higher Learning is exploited by the learners to perpetrate these vices. The higher education lecturers must be ready to contend with these problems in the teaching process.

    Political Climate

    Political instability occasioned by incessant military coups is the greatest problem of most African countries. Within the short period of many African nations’ independence they have passed through several republics. The unstable political climate has plunged many African nations into civil war including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo, Burundi and Angola.

    Under political climate characterised by instability of government, enough commitment is often not shown by successive governments to the implementation of educational policy formulated by a previous government. This is why in a country like Nigeria the implementation of 6-3-3-4 educational policy is suffering serious set back due to poor funding. The vocational aspect is pathetically neglected which is why most products of the system who should have gone vocational seek admission into the universities to do degree. In such a situation the higher education lecturer should expect to meet learners of varied ability and enthusiasm to learn and he or she should devise a means of coping with this challenge.

    We have now discussed six factors, which may affect learner characteristics. You may, (a) reflect on these and from your own experience, try to make further suggestions of how they may influence learner characteristics in your discipline (b) rank them to show which might exert the most influence and give reasons.

    UNIT 2


    At the end of the higher education programme, the learner is expected to have satisfied Senate or the Academic Board "in learning and character". The knowledge, skills and attitudes that are specified in the curriculum are expected to have been developed/acquired by all those who had passed through the programme. The exit profile of the higher education learner has these as descriptors as well as all knowledge, skills and attitudes that had been picked up from the hidden curriculum.

    After completing this Unit, you will be able to :

  • q describe the anticipated exist profile of the learner;

    q compare entry and exist profiles to give reasons for any positive changes; and

    q suggest ways of determining success.

  • Anticipated Exit Profile of the Learner

    If we were asked to give one reason for the publication of this text we would say that it is to help institutions of higher learning achieve that aspect of internal efficiency which is measured by the success rate in learners' transition from one level to another. The degree of success is dependent on several factors but the overriding one would seem to be the

    effectiveness of our learning/teaching strategies for bringing about the transformations we expect to see in behaviour over a period of time. A reliable indicator of our achievement is the nature of the learners' exit profile as compared with what it was on entry. In this module we have emphasised the crucial part played by knowledge of the learners psycho-social characteristics on entry in designing, the curriculum-selecting appropriate teaching styles/learning tasks, materials, learning/teaching aids and evaluation procedures. Equally important is its role as a measure of changes that might have occurred in the learners’ characteristics following their educational experiences. An improved quality of the exit profile as compared to the characteristics on entry is adequate indication of success.

    We should expect to see changes in two broad areas - the cognitive and the affective. We indicated earlier that higher education is not merely a means of improving one's chances on the job market. It must also aim at the holistic development of learners so that they can be responsible members of society. It is for this reason that attitudes and values as well as social skills are stressed. Moreover, to benefit from participatory approaches to learning, social skills are essential. Without them the learner cannot engage effectively in collaboration learning.

    Below is a set of exit characteristics which we should be proud to say we helped nurture in our learners.

    Classify them as follows :

    a) those related to improvement of knowledge skills and abilities for cognitive functioning

    b) those that reflect desirable attitudes and values for personal development

    c) those that reflect developed social skills :

    ° critical thinking

    ° lateral thinking

    ° pride in the dignity of labour

    ° self reliance

    ° adaptable

    ° problem solving skills

    ° positive attitude to work of all kinds

    ° tolerance

    ° assertive

    ° creative

    ° co-operative/capable of team work

    ° democratic style

    ° high self esteem

    ° imagination

    ° commitment

    ° motivation

    You may of course add to the list.


    Earlier in this Unit we highlighted the use of the entry profile in determining the quality of the exit profile. If you reflect on the entry profile given in Unit 2 you will notice significant differences in comparison to the exit profile given here (We are assuming of course that our interventions would result only in positive changes!). The observed transformations may be due to a variety of reasons - positive role models, healthier financial circumstances, positive support from peer group and the late developer syndrome - but we would like to believe that our strategies selected on the basis of the learners background played a part.


  • 1. Compare entry and exit profiles and suggest interventions which may have influenced changes.

    2. Do you think that such dramatic results could occur from your teaching strategies?

    3. How far do you think you can effect changes in behaviour?

  • You may discuss your answers with a colleague


    No doubt there are scientific methods of measuring change. However, we would recommend informal assessment as observed in performance of learners. The enthusiasm that they show in your courses or the testimonies that they make about you, sometimes long after graduating from your institution. Anecdotes abound about learners who can recall exactly when our strategies transformed them from, for example, information sectors to lateral thinkers; how they were able to realise their full potential because of one lecturer’s willingness to provide guidance and counselling services, and how a particularly insightful presentation of Wilfred Owen’s poem, « Dulce et decorum est pro patrie mori » influenced their attitude to war and conflict resolution in positive ways. Please discuss with colleagues and add to the list of experiences. You may be encouraged to approach your learning/teaching tasks with even greater enthusiasm.


    In this Module, we

  • o reviewed the status of the learner in transition from secondary to higher education and found changes in demographics that could impact on the attitude of higher education students to learning;

    o identified major psychosocial characteristics of learners in higher education and discussed how these could be factored into the opportunities given to students for learning;

    o described the factors affecting the psychosocial development of higher education learners including home background, national economy, and political climate;

    o identified the exit profile of the learner and how this could be influenced by the "treatment" given to students during the period of higher education; and

    o justified the study of the learners background and antecedents as a prelude to providing curricular and co-curricular experiences which form the content of the next Module.

  • For further reading

  • Nwana, O.C. (1996, November). The profile of the higher education learner. Presented at the UNESCO Workshop on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Nairobi, Kenya.

    Obanya, Pai (1998, September). Higher education for an emergent Nigeria. 50th Anniversary Lecture, Faulty of Education, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria.

    Okebukola, P.A.O. (1996, November). Needs assessment in higher education. Presented at the UNESCO Workshop on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Nairobi, Kenya.




    Modules 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11