It describes level of increasing complexity in a student's understanding of a subject, through five stages.




·       Pre-structural:

o   No understanding.

o   Irrelevant information.

o   Misses the point.

o    The response has no logical relationship to the question.

o   Students are simply acquiring bits of unconnected information, which have no organisation and makes no sense.




Example: What is a cow?


Uh..... I like cows.


·       Unistructural.

o   Identify.

o   Do simple procedure.

o   The response contains one relevant item, but misses others that might modify or contradict the response.

o   There is a rapid closure that oversimplifies the issue.


Example: What is a cow?


A cow is when you are milking...


·       Multi-structural.

o   Enumerate.

o   Describe.

o   List.

o   Combine.

o   The response contains several relevant items, but only those that are consistent with the chosen conclusion are stated.

o    Closure is selective and premature.

o   A number of connections may be made, but the meta-connections between them are missed, as is their significance for the whole.


Example: What is a cow?


Cows give us milk, and when slaughtered, they give us oil, meat, fat, bone, ... and leather.


·       Relational

o   Compare.

o   Contrast.

o   Explain causes.

o   Analyse.

o   Relate.

o   Apply.

o   The student can focus on several relevant aspects, but they are considered independently. He is able to classify, to combine, to enumerate,

o   Most or all of the relevant data are used, and conflicts resolved by the use of a relating concept that applies to the given context of the question.

o   The student is now able to appreciate the significance of the parts in relation to the whole.





Example: What is a cow?


The essential difference between a Jersey cow and a Hereford-Angus cow is that a Jersey cow produces a lot more milk, but is substantially smaller.




·       Extended abstract.

o   Theorise

o   Generalise.

o   Hypothesise.

o   Reflect.

o   The student makes connections not only within the given subject area, but also beyond it.

o   The student has the capacity to generalise the structure beyond the information given, and even produce new hypotheses or theories, which may then be scrutinized.

o   The student can link and integrate several parts into a coherent whole. Details are linked to conclusion and its meaning is understood.

o   Questioning of basic assumptions, counter examples and new data are often given that did not form part of the original question.



Example: What is a cow?


Cattle, or kye, are domesticated ungulates - a member of the sub-family bovinae. And, it seems to me that humans must have been the root cause for the diversification of cattle, because they were selected for different genetic characteristics like draft, milk, meat, size, color, and behavior, to name a few.



Sources: John Biggs, “What the Student Does: Teaching for Enhanced Learning” Higher Education Research, Vol. 18, No.1, 1999, pp 57-75.

Examples taken from “Teaching Teaching and Understanding Understanding” DVD directed by Claus Brabrand and produced by Claus Brabrand and Jacob Andersen, 2006.