How deep you are in learning?

Most peoples’ perception about learning is that “learning outcome is in proportion to time spent.”   It got some truth in this “time spent” theory.  If we dig deeper of it, we will find that time is just a mediator between “motivation” and “outcome”.  If you are interested in something, you tend to spend more time on it and most of the time you will know more about that “something”.  But “interest” or “motivation” is not a pre-requisit of “time spent”.   The myth of “time spend is in positive corelation to outcome” forms.  It means no matter you like it or not, you can always learn something by spending more time to it. 

If we look at the difference of the learning approaches, we can have “surface” and “deep” approaches (Biggs, 1987a, b; Ramsden, 1992; Marton et al, 1997).  Don’t be misled by the word “surface” and “deep” and thinking that “surface” is bad and “deep” approach is good.  Research show that the exam result of students applying “deep” approach is not always higher that students taking “surface” approach (I could not remember where I got this idea and I don’t have quot here).  Although most of the time, we see people applying deep approach perform better, we need also to consider the individual attitude toward learning, such as “learning oriented” or “performance oriented”.  Despite of the learning outcome, it seems to me that people applying “deep” approach find the process of learning fun (“fun” may be the result of motivation not the deep approach)

I have here some features about surface and deep approach of learning.  By understanding your own approach, I hope that you can understanding yourself better and apply your metacognition learning adjustment. 

If you are interested to know more, please visit the book “Understanding Learning and Teaching” by M Prosser and K Trigwell. 

Deep Approach:

Students aim at understanding ideas and seek meanings

  • have intrinsic interest in the task;

  • an expectation of enjoyment in carrying it out;

  • adopt strategies that help satisfy their curiosity; such as making the task coherent to their own experience; relating and distinguishing evidence and argument; looking for patterns and underlying principles; integrating the task with existing awareness; seeing the parts of a task as making up the whole; theorizing about it; forming hypothesis; and relating what they understand from other parts of the same subject, and from different subjects.

  • Overall they have a focus on the meaning in the argument, the message or the relationship, but they are aware that the meanings are carried by the words, the text, or the formulae

Surface Approach:

  • Students see tasks as external impossitions and they have the intention to cope with these requirements;

  • they are instrumentally or pragmatically motivated and seek to meet the demands of the task with minimum effort.

  • they adopt strategies which includes a focus on unrelated parts of the tasks; seperate treatment of related parts (such as on principles and examples); a focus on what seen as essentials (factual data and their symbolic representations)

  • the reproduction of the essentials as accurately as possible; and the role memorizing information for assessment purposes rather than for understanding;

  • overall they would appear to be involved in study without reflection on purpose or strategy, with the focus of that study being on the words, the texts, or the formulae. (M Prosser, K Trigwell)


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