Constructing a learning identity: Students who have a learning disability reflect on their learning at a university learning center

Denise Kathleen Marone, University of Pennsylvania


This exploratory study seeks to understand the ways in which students construct their learning identities, the term I use to signify students' perceptions of themselves as learners. Through my work with students who have a learning disability at a university learning center, I experienced a growing awareness that how students perceived themselves as learners affected their learning, their approach to learning, and the work we did together. By conducting practitioner research with three students, I investigated the ways in which the students viewed themselves as learners and the impact these identities had in their approaches to learning and in our work. The students participated as co-researchers: we tape recorded our weekly working sessions and I transcribed parts of them. In subsequent sessions, I brought copies of the transcripts to the respective student, and after the student reviewed the transcripts, we discussed and reflected on the transcripts and our work. Through analysis of all three students' transcripts and additional data, I searched for common themes and discovered several aspects from which to view students' perceptions of themselves as learners. I incorporated these findings into a heuristic of learning identity, which includes: (1) Purpose for being in school and expectations; (2) Knowledge of learning disabilities: attitude towards the label, acceptance of the LD, and self-advocacy; (3) Reasons for utilizing or declining campus academic resources; (4) Perceptions of control; (5) Comparison to others; and (6) Personal definitions and beliefs of “smart,” “student,” and “different.” I use the learning identity heuristic as the organizing structure to present case studies of the students in order to illustrate the influence the students' learning identities had on their approach to courses and on our work together. I discuss this study's implications for students, practitioners, and professors as well as for literature fields that seek to understand student learning.

Subject Area

Higher education|Adult education|Continuing education

Recommended Citation

Marone, Denise Kathleen, "Constructing a learning identity: Students who have a learning disability reflect on their learning at a university learning center" (2001). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3031693.