This paper describes an investigation of conceptions of learning held by 22 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from three universities in Queensland, Australia. Other areas investigated were students’ experiences of informal learning, their reasons for studying and the strategies they used to learn.

Research into conceptions of learning is gaining impetus and current beliefs include the premise that approaches to learning adopted by university students, and hence learning outcomes are closely related to their conceptions of learning. There is substantial research focused on Aboriginal learning styles in early childhood and early primary school which indicates that Aboriginal children prefer to learn in a practical way as well as through observation and imitation and trial and error. Very little research has focused specifically on Aboriginal university students’ conceptions of learning.

Results of this study found that these students view and approach formal university learning in much the same way as other university students and most hold quantitative conceptions of learning. The most interesting result was the difference between students’ conceptions of formal learning and their experiences of informal learning. Many student’ experiences of informal learning were grounded in practical activities or exhibited a cultural focus, however most formal learning is not dependant upon practical or cultural knowledge.

It is proposed that formal learning for indigenous students recongnise and include and Indigenous perspective such as integrating, where appropriate, practical strategies for learning. We also suggest that Indigenous students be helped to develop conceptions that will enable them to learn formal, theoretical material successfully.