Surface or Deep Learning?



While I was reading Taking Stock: Research on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Executive by Lindblom-Ylänne, I found myself reflecting on my own learning and asking which of my experiences and courses led me to deep learning? Conversely, what types of activities that I as an instructor have employed have led to deep learning for my students?

Surface approach to learning is described as adopting minimal effort in the learning process. One example of this approach is when reading a text as an exercise the student concentrates on reading the text itself.  A deep approach to learning is based on a genuine interest in the subject matter and the aim is an interpretation of the text.  Lindblom-Ylänne emphasizes that the deep approach leads to higher quality learning while surface learning approaches are institutional creations shifting the focus from the task itself to rewards for task completion (p. 64).

How do faculty design their courses in order to move towards deep learning? Some of the techniques offered include:

  • encouraging students to self-regulate their learning,
  • facilitating student mastery of threshold concepts,
  • teaching students to engage in processes of inquiry,
  • providing congruent learner-environment frameworks; and
  • ensuring students have positive perceptions of teaching as perceptions of good teaching influence a student to move towards a deep approach.

As an instructor, have I tried to use a variety of techniques that lead to deep learning?  Am I conscious of the learning environment ensuring its congruency with my learners’ backgrounds and learning preferences? I try my best but reminders are appreciated and increased research into deep learning is welcomed.

If you are interested in reading this book yourself, there are copies of it in the GMCTE library.

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