What is deep learning?

Deep Learning

deep water

Surface Learning

image of a scratched surface



Examining new facts and ideas critically, tying them into existing cognitive structures and making numerous links between ideas.

  • Looking for meaning.
  • Focusing on the central argument or concepts needed to solve a problem.
  • Interacting actively.
  • Distinguishing between argument and evidence.
  • Making connections between different modules.
  • Relating new and previous knowledge.
  • Linking course content to real life.

Accepting new facts and ideas in a non-critical manner and attempting to store them as isolated, unconnected pieces of knowledge.

  • Relying on memorization.
  • Focusing on outwards signs and the formula needed to solve a problem.
  • Receiving information passively.
  • Failing to distinguish principles from examples.
  • Treating parts of modules and programs as separate.
  • Not recognizing new material as building on previous work.
  • Seeing course content simply as material to be learned for an exam.

A student's learning is at the center of every class you teach, whether it be face-to-face, blended, or online. The quality of a students' learning is interconnected with the design and facilitation of the class, which impacts the student's engagement. The lasting impact a class has on a student is linked to her quality of learning. Think back to your own learning experiences for a moment and identify the range in your quality of learning.

Teachers who cultivate deep learning foster empathy and channel it into their classes. In an online class, a teacher may feel less able to convey empathy if relying entirely on text-based communications. Moreover, care and consideration must be taken to design formative and summative assessments into an online class that engage students on an emotional level and create relevance between the course curriculum and the students' lives.  


Table is adapted from graphic retrieved from: http://exchange.ac.uk/learning-and-teaching-theory-guide/deep-and-surface-approaches-learning.html


 Houghton, Warren (2004) Engineering Subject Centre Guide: Learning and Teaching Theory for Engineering Academics. Loughborough: HEA Engineering Subject Centre.