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AU News

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

July 31, 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

Have you ever thought about how important it is to be ready to learn? It is very difficult to go immediately from, say, lunch, or a club meeting, or a video game, to learning, without at least a bit of preparation. Let’s consider how we can get ready to learn by pre-reading and by preparing for class.

Getting Ready to Learn

Back “in the day,” before a pump would produce water, it needed to have water poured down its pipe. This was called “priming the pump.” That terminology has been applied to a variety of things, from loading one’s musket to warming up the economy.

When it comes to learning, it helps when we “prime the pump” of our brains. We are slow to move into learning mode without at least a bit of preparation. In order to learn deeply, there are things we can do that set the stage for the learning process. Let’s think about strategies to help us prepare for reading and for class.


Students are typically given a lot of reading assignments in college. Sadly, many students do very few of their reading assignments. Some see these assignments as unnecessary (especially if they don’t see a direct link to test questions). Others feel overwhelmed by the amount of reading assigned, so they throw up their hands at it all. Still others find some course reading to be above their heads, and rather than struggle through to get whatever they can from the reading, they wait for class and hope to understand from the lecture and class discussion.

You should always, always, always read your assignments, even if you do not understand what you are reading. Yes, you should always read your assignments. Even if you can’t quite understand, read anyway. The pre-reading strategy below will help you to understand. But also – remember the conversation before about making connections. Just by reading and becoming somewhat familiar with terms and getting an inkling of the important concepts in the chapter, you are creating hooks of information that will allow what you hear in class to attach. This begins creating concepts that those who did not read will miss.  

This is the quick guide to pre-reading:

  • Start with the chapter outline, or whatever material is available to help you see what is coming in the chapter.
  • Read the chapter summary at the end of the chapter. This shows what the author(s) felt was most important.
  • Read review questions, vocabulary, or any other information at the end of the chapter.
  • Now, go back through the chapter, looking at headings and subheadings, charts, graphs, tables, illustrations, pictures – see what is helping to explain the content of the chapter.
  • Finally, you are ready to read the chapter. Because of your pre-reading, you are far more alert to what is coming, and you are able to take it in more quickly because you know where you are headed.


Too often students go to class without the slightest inkling of what will be happening in class that day. They don’t know what the topic is, they don’t expect this day to fit into the rest of the course – it’s just another day, unattached from the rest. Add to that going into class late and sitting away from the professor and around distracting people, and it’s a wonder that such a student will ever get anything from class!

Here are some strategies for you to put into place pre-class:

  • Check the syllabus.  See what the day’s topic is and how it fits into the entire course (you’re still creating hooks for those connections!)
  • Get to class early!  Review your notes from the previous class and the reading for the day. This will improve your note-taking and your learning.
  • Sit in a place that maximizes your attention and minimizes distraction (typically, front and center is best).
  • Sit by people who will enable you to listen and learn. In other words, avoid sitting near distracting people.
  • Sit upright and lean forward.  This tells your body that you are ready to learn. It also tells your professor that you care about the class, and that’s a message you always want to send!

By putting these strategies into practice, you are much more likely to take good notes, be able to take part in class discussion (which will impress your professor), and truly learn from your reading and from your time in class.

Next time: Studying to Learn Deeply (final post in the series)

Read part one of this series here.

Read part two of this series here.

Read part three of this series here.

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

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