Deep Learning: Beneath the Surface from Memorization to Understanding (part one of a series)

July 10, 2018

By L. Dianne King, Ph.D., Dean of Student Success, David Larson McPhillips Center for Student Success at Anderson University 

Students often come to college assuming that learning will be pretty much the same as it was in high school. They are often shocked to learn that their assumption was, well, inaccurate. Learning in college is a new challenge, but one to which most students can adapt.  We’ll discuss how to make the deep dive into effective learning. We’ll start by exploring the three types of learning.

There are three types of learning:

  • Surface learning
  • Strategic learning
  • Deep learning

As one might guess, deep learning is recommended for college students, while surface learning is definitely not recommended. Interestingly, college students often opt for strategic learning. As we will see, it is not recommended either.

Surface Learning

Surface learners, as the name implies, “skim the surface” of information but never get deep into the learning process. They try to memorize facts and anticipate what the professor may ask on the test (and there’s nothing wrong with that in itself), but they don’t go deeper. They are focused on passing the test, not on retaining the information beyond the test or on how the information may be used later.  

This often worked in high school, but it rarely works in college. It may get a student through a course or two, but it won’t work in upper-level and major courses.  It certainly doesn't prepare you for life beyond college.

Strategic Learning

Strategic learners often appear to be really good students.  They may make good grades, but they have a short-sighted agenda: to figure out what the professor wants just so that they get higher grades.  They want the higher grades, not as a representation of how much they have learned, but because they want the recognition that comes with the grades.  This may work in college, but I’d rather not have a strategic learner as my CPA, nurse, attorney, or even minister.  

Deep Learning

Deep learners are those who have made connections, not just among ideas in a given class, but among concepts across classes and in the wider world. They are constantly working to see the “big picture” of how the world works, and how their particular discipline fits into the world.  They also often get good grades, but grades are not their main motivation. They just love to learn! 

They have childlike hearts when it comes to learning, but they have adult skills to help them learn.

Next time: How do we learn?

For more information on services available at the David Larson McPhillips Center for Student Success at Anderson University, click here