Before we explore this idea, we need to consider the following questions that were mentioned at the beginning of Day 1:
What is learning?
How do we know when our students have learned something?
How do you know when you have been successful in your teaching approach?
Some possible answers might include:
“I observe my students successfully completing a task using the skills and knowledge I have taught them.”
“My students do well in final assessments or exams.”
“I see changes in my students in terms of their skills, knowledge, motivation and attitude.”
“I see my students graduated as well rounded individuals with the range of skills to enter their chosen profession.”
- What do you think of these responses – do any of them ring more true for you in your teaching context than others?
- How do you know when you have learned something?
- Does simply remembering some information or improving practical skills and application constitute learning? Or is it more? Does motivation come into it? Does learning mean we develop more than just our cognitive skills to become a more well-rounded, developed human?
These questions have been researched and theorised on, within the disciplines of education and psychology. Let’s look at some of the resulting theories.
Deep versus Surface Learning
Students can often adopt a “surface”, “achieving”, or “strategic” approach to learning, which means they learn only enough to obtain a pass or the grade they want and do not engage deeply with the learning and the material. Engaging in “deep” learning, by contrast, means the student will try to make sense of the material in their own way, ask many questions, examine the material critically, and often go beyond the required reading and engagement in the course in an effort to understand concepts at a deeper level.
Deeper learning results in real changes to the student’s perceptions and also often their behaviour and attitude. There is no “typical” surface or deep learner – most people use different strategies depending on their personal motivation, their circumstances, and even the teaching methods they are exposed to.
University of Technology Sydney’s site “Enhancing Teaching and Learning” has an excellent overview of this learning theory, plus good sources listed in the references, if you would like to find out more.
- Does this idea resonate with your experience? In your teaching context, is it important that students adopt deep, rather than surface/strategic approaches to learning?
- Would reliance on recall through tests and exams encourage deep or surface learning?
- What teaching and assessment approaches would encourage a deeper approach to learning?
Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation
This concept is from educational psychology, and is very relevant to the idea of “deep vs surface learning.” Logically, deep learning is accompanied by intrinsic motivation in students – the intrinsically motivated student is emotionally engaged with their study, has an inherent interest in the subject matter, and is self-directed, responding well to complex problems and learning materials. The extrinsically motivated student is concerned with external motivators such as grades, achieving qualifications, and status. These external motivators are not sufficiently powerful for them to see study as a desirable activity in itself, but rather they will see it as a means to an end. A useful resource to look in more detail at how extrinsic and extrinsic motivation works in educational settings is Vanderbilt University’s Centre for Teaching, “Motivating students.”
To create learning experiences based on the idea of the self-directed, intrinsically motivated adult, technology is definitely your friend. Technology enables independent adults who have access to vast amounts resources via the internet, to learn at their own pace. It enables deep engagement with the learning material if self-directed and if group activities are designed well.
Using mobile technology means learning can be very flexible, and can take place anywhere, anytime, it can facilitate group collaboration and communication, and can allow students to collect their own data or evidence of research and learning.
Using many of the strategies you read about in the links above (e.g., helping students make connections between ideas, using a student-focused approach, givings students opportunities for discussion, debate, creativity and self-directed learning), can engage students more deeply in learning.
How can a teacher encourage students to find some “intrinsic motivation” for their study – or is this something that can only be done by the individual student themselves?
In our next session we will explore the notions of different levels of learning, by looking at theories about taxonomies of learning.