Date of Award

Winter 12-18-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Psychology and Special Education

First Advisor

Dr Nannette Commander


The growth, benefits, and challenges of international students in higher education provide compelling reasons to closely examine the social, cultural, and introspective aspects of learning for this population. One area of research that provides insight into the learning experiences of international students is investigations on conceptions of learning. Previous research has found that conceptions of learning guide primary beliefs, experiences, interpretations, and outcomes of learning. Conceptions of learning also provide insight into the ways students choose to approach learning and influence how they interact with courses, classroom environment, teachers, and peers (Marshall et al., 1999). However, research on conceptions of learning has predominantly been with students from Europe, North America, Australia, and Asia with little attention on other geographical locations such as Africa and South America. The purpose of this study was to examine Brazilian and Nigerian international students’ conceptions of learning while enrolled in an American university. No study to date has investigated Brazilian and Nigerian students’ conceptions of learning within the context of the United States, and no other research has examined both groups within the same study. Reflective diaries and interviews reveal an awareness of learning as a process not limited to inside the classroom. Clear themes emerged from both Brazilian and Nigerian students’ regarding their conceptions of learning and what constitutes good teaching. Importantly, findings of this study indicate differences and similarities between Brazilian and Nigerian students’ ideas about learning and actual learning experiences. Participants generally characterized their learning experiences as challenging and the process of adaptation as difficult. Findings of this study provide valuable information to instructors and international programs regarding academic support and assistance for two growing international populations on American campuses, Brazilian and Nigerian students.