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

August 1, 2018

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

In previous posts we have discussed the three types of learners, how we learn, the learning/memory process and how to get ready to learn. In this final post, we need to consider how to study in ways that promote deep learning.

Study for Deep Learning  

At first blush, studying seems like a straight-forward, almost simple, proposition. You read over notes (again, and again, and again), and then you go to take a test over that material. However, only a Surface Learner (or someone new to college) would approach studying like this. Such an approach actually wastes time and energy with little pay-off in learning.  

Preparing to Study

Just as with reading and getting ready for class, there are a few things you can do to prepare to study:

  • Find a quiet spot that you can return to over and over. Make it your study space.
  • Know what you need to study, and get all of your materials – notes, textbook, handouts – everything you need, together with you.
  • Get right with your electronics. If your smart phone, iPad or laptop are distractions rather than aids to studying, turn them off! Be honest with yourself about this. Multitasking is a myth.
  • Consider studying with a group – as long as the group stays on task.

Review, Review, Review

Students often believe that the time to study is right before (even the night before) a test. This may result in all-nighters, with students stumbling into the test with a glazed look and a hazy brain.

This can (and should) be avoided by a schedule of reviewing. Review is the way you move material you have been exposed to in reading or class into long-term memory.  

  • Review your notes from each class within 24 hours.
  • Do a brief weekly review of all your notes and readings from the week.
  • Every 2-3 weeks, do a review of everything within those weeks.

All this review is helping you remember, make connections and see the big picture. It will help you become a deep learner

Interleaving your Study
Interleaving is an important strategy for studying, and it is backed up by science. Often students study the same material in long, unbroken sessions. They begin to feel confident about the material. Unfortunately, students who do this often are left staring at the test page, wondering why they can’t retrieve information that they were certain that they knew.  

The answer is that the student went over the material so often, so close together, that they became so familiar with the material that they tricked themselves into believing that they knew the material. 

When you interleave your studying, you spend a relatively short time (perhaps two 50-minute sessions) on one subject, then move to another subject, then another. The next day, you do the same thing, or perhaps study one subject MWF and the other TRSa. The time in between studying specific material allows you to forget just a little, which actually enhances your efforts to move the material into long-term memory.  

These are foundational study strategies that will help you learn well and learn deeply. If you want further information on strategies for academic success, contact the David Larson McPhillips Center for Student Success at   

Read part one of this series here.

Read part two of this series here.

Read part three of this series here.

Read part four of this serieshere.

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

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