What is learning?

·       Learning is a way of interacting with the world. As we learn, our conceptions of phenomena change, and we see the world in a different way. The acquisition of information in itself does not bring about such a change, but the way we structure that information and think with it does. Thus, education is about conceptual change, not just the acquisition of information.

What is deep learning?

·       Deep learning is an approach and an attitude to learning, where the learner uses higher-order cognitive skills such as the ability to analyse, synthesize, solve problems, and thinks meta-cognitively in order to construct long-term understanding. It involves the critical analysis of new ideas, linking them to already known concepts, and principles so that this understanding can be used for problem solving in new, unfamiliar contexts. Deep learning entails a sustained, substantial, and positive influence on the way students act, think, or feel.


·       Deep learning promotes understanding and application for life. Deep learners reflect on the personal significance of what they are learning. They are autonomous –they virtually teach themselves. But they are also collaborative learners, with high meta-cognitive and learning skills.


What is surface learning?

·       In contrast, surface learning is the tacit acceptance of information and memorization as isolated and unlinked facts. It leads to superficial retention of material for examinations and does not promote understanding or long-term retention of knowledge and information.



Deep learning

Surface learning

The deeper the student’s approach to learning, the higher the quality of the learning outcome

·       Knowledge is constructed.

o   Learners learn by integrating new knowledge with existing knowledge.

o   Mental models of reality change slowly.

o   (i) learners must face a situation in which their mental models of reality will not work, i.e., it will not help them explain or do something (expectation failure).

o   (ii) learners must care that it does not work strongly enough to stop and grapple with the issue at hand.

o   (iii) learners must be able to handle the emotional trauma that sometimes accompanies challenges to longstanding beliefs.

Knowledge is received.

o   Knowledge is transmitted from the teacher to the student. Thus, knowledge is received.

o   Paulo Freire’s bank model.

·       Search for meanings.

o   Meaning is not imposed or transmitted by direct instruction. It is created by the student’s learning activities.

o   The student approaches learning with the intention to understand and seek meaning, and consequently, searches for relationships among materials and interprets knowledge in light of previous knowledge structures and experiences.


·       Student learning activities

o   Deep learning and doing travel together. Doing in itself is not enough. Faculty must connect activity to the abstract conceptions that make sense of it, but passive mental postures lead to superficial learning.


Search for facts.

·       Higher-order cognitive skills.

o   Analyse, synthesize, judge, evaluate, generalize, hypothesize, solve problems, relate, and apply.

·       Lower-order cognitive skills.

o   Memorization and rote learning.

·       Intrinsic motivation.


o   We learn best what we feel we need to know.

o   Intrinsic motivation remains inextricably bound to some level of choice and control.

o   Motivation should be a product of teaching. The art of good teaching is to communicate the need to learn where it is initially lacking.

·       Extrinsic motivation.


o   Motivation is a product of good teaching, not its prerequisite. Students are not unmotivated. They are not responding to the methods that work for other students.

o    Students are prompted by the fear of failure and the need to satisfy assessment requirements.

Approaches to learning arise from the students perceptions of the teachers’ requirements.

o   Faculty are instrumental in forming those perceptions because research indicates that different forms of teaching are perceived differently by students, and thus tend to elicit different approaches.

o   But teachers may not directly produce conceptual change (learning) in students’ understanding of the world. It is only what students do to achieve understanding that is important, not what teachers do.

Constructive alignment


o   An aligned system of instruction: the objectives define what teachers should teach, how, and how to know how well students have learned.

o   The curriculum is stated in the form of clear objectives. The assessment tasks address the objectives. The teaching methods must realize the objectives.

o   There is a maximum consistency throughout the system. All components in the system address the same agenda and support each other.

o   Students are heavily influenced by the hidden curriculum. They look for clues and use these to drive their study effort.

o   Very little of out-of-class student learning is unrelated to assessment.

o   For many students, assessment defines the actual curriculum.


·       Unaligned courses


o   Constructive alignment is part of teachers’ rhetoric, but it remains aloof from practice.

o   Our universities are predominantly unaligned.

·       Metacognition


o   Metacognition means thinking about thinking. It refers to thinking which involves active control over the cognitive processes engaged in learning.


o   We need to help students to see the purposes of the work they have to do, to consider strategies, and to monitor their success.

·       Emphasis on summative evaluations: study for exams.


o   A threatening and anxiety provoking assessment system.


o   The pressure on teachers to evaluate –and to give low grades- and the pressure on students to earn high grades lead teachers to teach for evaluation and students to teach for grades.


o   The game becomes a matter of dealing with the test, not with engaging the TLA deeply.


·       Discovery

o   It represents genuine learning by the student.

o   It entails the idea that knowledge acquisition is an ongoing process, with ever changing results, plenty of uncertainties, and real staying power.

o   It happens in the brain of the learner, which is stimulated to search, store, and solve by challenging questions and opportunities to explore them in depth.

o   Making mistakes and correcting them are integral parts of the learning process.

o   Discovery is unique and memorable.

·       Coverage

o   It reflects knowledge and skills of the teacher.

o   Knowledge is considered a thing -with no loose ends, mistakes, or mysteries- that can be deposited in the minds of students, generally via lectures.

o   Learning is reduced to storing as much information as possible, regurgitating it on the exam, and then dumping it when no longer needed.

o   The need to cover is the most common excuse teachers give when they find themselves speeding up the pace of delivery beyond the capacity of students to keep up.

o   An excessive amount of material in the curriculum. An excessive amount of course material. A lack of opportunity to pursue subjects in depth.

o   Relatively high class contact hours.

·       Focus on what the student does (John Bigg’s level 3 of teaching competence.

o   The focus is on bringing about conceptual change in students’ understanding of the world.

o   It is what students do to achieve understanding that is important, not what teachers do.

o   The teacher’s fundamental task is to get students to engage in learning activities that are likely to result in their achieving high quality learning outcomes.

·       Focus on what the teacher does.

Bigg’s level 2 of teaching competence.

o   The responsibility rests on what the teacher does.

o   It is a transmission process.

o   Teachers try to get across complex understandings.

o   Teaching is seen as a bag of competencies. Teachers work on an armoury of teaching skills to be effective.

o   The more competencies a teacher has, the better a teacher he/she is.

Administrators usually hold this perspective, also known, as blame the teacher, because it provides a convenient rationale for making personnel decisions.









(learning outcomes)

Personal characteristics of students


Learning environment (course and institutional context


Perception of learning environment


Motives for studying a particular course





Learning approach:

deep or surface

Objective (exams) and


subjective (satisfaction)  measures of performance