How do students learn theology?

Donald Saines

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


This paper explores the way students learn theology through a small qualitative research project. It is undertaken in conversation with current higher education learning theory. This learning theory suggests that it is important to discover how a student conceptualizes learning and how they perceive the teaching environment. Students interviewed increasingly spoke of the value of this academic or more cognitive side of learning as they learned 'deep approaches.' Important in this movement to deep, transformational learning was the presence of a relational teaching environment in which peers and teachers played a crucial role. This present study offers support to the view that the tradition of the learning community remains important for deploying deep approaches to the learning of theology in higher education. The paper argues that these relational principals of teaching and learning remain important in the face of the increased use of technology-based tools and other pedagogical challenges to theological education today. This paper explores the necessary and sufficient conditions for the learning of theology by students in higher education. It reports on the findings of a qualitative research project undertaken in late 2007 and early 2008 that asked students how they learn theology. The study was undertaken in conversation with current literature on learning theory together with other research into teaching and learning in higher education. The paper seeks to elucidate those aspects of the pedagogical process that students themselves name as important for their learning of theology and to draw some conclusions for the nature of a professional teaching environment. The measure of quality learning used in this discussion, well known in recent years, is the practice of deep approaches to learning. The implication in this paper is that the encouragement of deep approaches to learning is of critical importance for quality professionaltheological education within institutions of higher education: 'Good teaching implies engaging students in ways that are appropriate to the deployment of deep approaches' (Ramsden 2003, 60).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-347
Number of pages15
JournalTeaching Theology and Religion
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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