Thinking About Deeper Learning

In rejecting the Standard Model of Education, we are rejecting the definition of learning that aligns with students as vessels to be filled with information. Some faculty and other educators might interject at this point and ask, “Wait. What’s wrong with that kind of education?” That question will be followed by holding themselves and their colleagues up as an example. “We were taught that way and it served us well,” they claim. I argue that if one looks more closely at what they have truly learned they will find they may have been first introduced to ideas in tell- and-test classrooms, but they engaged with the curriculum in other ways, and those were the educative experiences that led them to deeper learning. In the same way that nursing students really learn the material they are taught in lectures when they are in study groups and in clinical settings, we have all learned what we were taught in lecture in other settings.  

Educators, educational scholars, and a range of professional and business organizations have proposed variations on what they usually call deeper learning over the last few decades. This work is motivated by the observation that inert knowledge is not sufficient for individuals to participate in the economic, political, and cultural landscape of the 21st century. Exactly what comprises deeper learning varies depending on the focus each of these organizations chooses to take, but there are several characteristics that are consistent across the many definitions of deeper learning. 

In general, deeper learning is grounded in psychological theory that is more sophisticated than the theory that underlies the Standard Model of Education. Deeper learning is multidimensional in that information is not understood in isolation; its relevance and relation to other ideas and to social problems makes it useful and meaningful. Advocates for deeper learning recognize there are many types of human activity that contribute to cognition and improving capacity in any is learning. Deeper learning also results when social and emotional aspects of cognition are recognized when designing lessons.