Kindling fires: examining the potential for cumulative learning in a journalism curriculum

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Teaching in Higher Education

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Taylor & Francis


University of Cape Town

This study investigated context-dependency of learning as an indicator for students’ potential to continue learning after graduation. We used Maton’s theoretical concepts of 'cumulative' and 'egmented' learning, and 'semantic gravity', to look for context-independent learning in students' assessments in a Journalism curriculum. We postulated whether the curriculum constrained or enabled cumulative learning. Students' responses to assessments were coded by their degree of context-dependency, or semantic gravity. We found that, firstly, students are overly successful in producing context-dependent answers but struggle to deliver context-independent responses. Secondly, students were not effective when they used higher level knowledge principles without the foundation of lower level ones. Lastly, the marking criteria were encouraging markers to reward context-dependent answers over context-independent ones. This study has implications for educators interested in curriculum design that enables cumulative learning in discipline specific contexts.

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Teaching in higher education on 27 April 2012, available online: