Just revisiting deep and Surface approaches to learning

Notes to self:

Although learners may be classified as “deep” or “surface”, they are not attributes of individuals: one person may use both approaches at different times, although she or he may have a preference for one or the other.

They correlate fairly closely with motivation:

  • “deep” with intrinsic motivation
  • “surface” with extrinsic

they are not necessarily the same thing. Either approach can be adopted by a person with either motivation.

There is a third form, known as the “Achieving” or strategic approach, which can be summarised as a very well-organised form of Surface approach, and in which the motivation is to get good marks. The exercise of learning is construed as a game, so that acquisition of technique improves performance. It works as well as the analogy: insofar as learning is not a game, it breaks down.

Conceptions of Learning

“Learning” means different things to different people. SÄLJÖ R (1979) “Learning in the Learner’s Perspective: 1: some commonplace misconceptions” Reports from the Institute of Education, University of Gothenburg, 76. 

classified the conceptions held by respondents in his interview-based study into five categories:
  1. Learning as a quantitative increase in knowledge. Learning is acquiring information or “knowing a lot”
  2. Learning as memorising. Learning is storing information that can be reproduced.
  3. Learning as acquiring facts, skills and methods that can be retained and used as necessary.
  4. Learning as making sense or abstracting meaning. Learning involves relating parts of the subject matter to each other and to the real world.
  5. Learning as interpreting and understanding reality in a different way. Learning involves comprehending the world by re-interpreting knowledge.

(Read more: Deep and Surface learninghttp://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/deepsurf.htm#ixzz1fOa7HuhT
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives )

Surface approach:

The student reduces what is to be learnt to the status of unconnected facts to be memorised, which means that the learning task becomes to be able to reproduce the subject matter at a later date

The student reduces what is to be learnt to the status of unconnected facts to be memorised. The learning task is to reproduce the subject matter at a later date (perhaps in an exam):
It would have been more interesting if I’d known that I wasn’t going to be tested on it afterwards, ‘cos in that case I’d’ve more, you know, thought about what it said instead of all the time trying to think: ‘Now I must remember this and now I must remember that’.

Deep approach:

The student attempts to make sense of what is learnt, which consists of ideas and concepts, and involves the student in thinking, seeking integration between components and between tasks, and ‘playing’ with ideas (Gibbs, G. (1992). Improving the Quality of Student Learning. Plymouth UK: Technical and Educational Services Ltd.)

The student attempts to make sense of what is to be learnt, using ideas and concepts. This involves thinking, seeking integration between components and between tasks, and ‘playing’ with ideas:
I tried to look for … you know, the principal ideas … I tried to think what it was all about … I thought about how he had built up the whole thing.
An approach is not the same as a skill. It is primarily about the learner’s intention. It can be helpful to make the learning process explicit by discussing students’ intentions with them. Ask the students what they were trying to do and what they were thinking about, for example when they were making notes or writing their essay.

Course characteristics & a surface approach

  • A heavy workload
  • Relatively high class contact hours
  • An excessive amount of course material
  • A lack of opportunity to pursue subjects in depth
  • A lack of choice over subjects and a lack of choice over the method of study
  • A threatening and anxiety provoking assessment system
Course characteristics & a deep approach
  • The engendering of intrinsic motivation in the students; students wanting and needing to know
  • Learner activity
  • Interaction with others
  • A well structured knowledge base – i.e where content is taught in integrated wholes and where knowledge is required to be related to other knowledge
11 conditions under which assessment supports learning 2 (Gibbs and Simpson, 2002)
  1. Sufficient assessed tasks are provided for students to capture sufficient study time (motivation)
  2. These tasks are engaged with by students, orienting them to allocate appropriate amounts of time and effort to the most important aspects of the course (motivation)
  3. Tackling the assessed task engages students in productive learning activity of an appropriate kind (learning activity)
  4. Assessment communicates clear and high expectations (motivation)
  5. Sufficient feedback is provided, both often enough and in enough detail
  6. The feedback focuses on students’ performance, on their learning and on actions under the students’ control, rather than on the students themselves and on their characteristics
  7. The feedback is timely in that it is received by students while it still matters to them and in time for them to pay attention to further learning or receive further assistance
  8. Feedback is appropriate to the purpose of the assignment and to its criteria for success.
  9. Feedback is appropriate, in relation to students’ understanding of what they are supposed to be doing.
  10. Feedback is received and attended to.
  11. Feedback is acted upon by the student

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Posted in Learning, Learning Technologist, Teaching

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