Surface Learning vs. Deep Learning Approaches – The Difference Between A Deep Learning Approach and A Surface Learning Approach.

The Difference Between A Deep Learning Approach and A Surface Learning Approach. Let us hear from some of the brilliant minds in the education industry.

Surface Learning vs. Deep Learning Approaches

Deep and surface approaches to learning are approaches that students themselves and research, way back in the 1970s, actually told us those are terms of students in the research used. It’s not something that professors and, you know, educational theorists came up with. Let us know about the difference between surface learning and deep learning approaches from Joy Mighty of Carleton University.

Joy Mighty, Carleton University. Surface Learning vs. Deep Learning Approaches
Joy Mighty, Carleton University. Surface Learning vs. Deep Learning Approaches

The students have told us that they adapt their learning and approach to learning based on their learning context and their perception of the learning environments.

Surface learning is when they take a very rote approach to learning. They’re not interested in meaning and understanding. They want to give back to the instructor, perhaps what they think the instructor wants them to give.

It’s a question of learning by root memorizing, paying very little attention to, you know, challenging situations. Just make. The minimum effort, but you can get through the course in the minimum effort.

A deep approach to learning is when the student is motivated to go to the meaning to understand what they’re learning. It’s not simply a question of memorizing.

They ask questions about things that they’ve encountered in the learning process. They are interested enough to realize that a deep approach requires them to be actively involved in the learning process, participate by asking questions, seek answers themselves, and look for deeper understanding.

The same student can sometimes take a surface approach in one course and one professor and a deep approach with another. It is because of the environment that they perceive exists in each of those courses. So how you design a course is critical.

If you design a course where the learning outcomes are not explicit, it does not allow the students to immerse themselves in the process.

Also, the assessment is an important part of the design. 

We know how important assessment is to students. It’s one of the first questions they ask “how are we going to be evaluated in this course?” They can, very early in the course, based on how you’ve designed the assessment, recognize what it is you want from them: are you seeking a demonstration of learning, or are you seeking regurgitation of information that you have provided.

So how you design the course, the kinds of activities that you engage the students in the kinds of assessment you let you develop for the course would impact the students’ choice about what approach use it’s a choice, and they make that choice based on their life.

How would you distinguish deep and surface approaches of learning?

Maureen Connolly of Brock University is a big believer in associative anchoring.

Maureen Connolly, Brock University. Surface Learning vs. Deep Learning Approaches
Maureen Connolly, Brock University. Surface Learning vs. Deep Learning Approaches

Deep learning is anchored in Association. She will always go for understanding over memory, always. She will privilege understanding over memorization, and quite frankly, in the online education environment, memorization doesn’t make much sense to her anyway.

She does privilege comprehension, understanding application over memorization fact-based discrete types of pieces of evidence. However, she understands that we need to use discrete evidence early to get more complex and consolidated evidence later. 

The difference between deep learning and surface learning.

From Carleton University, Samah Sabra says something really interesting.

Samah Sabra, Carleton University. Surface Learning vs. Deep Learning Approaches
Samah Sabra, Carleton University. Surface Learning vs. Deep Learning Approaches

She thinks that in education theory, this distinction is made between deep and surface approaches to learning. The idea is that with surface approaches, learning often it’s this kind of, you know, cram for the exam or the assignment or stay up all night getting the paper in. Then you don’t remember it beyond that, right?

You’re just sort of in the same way that an iceberg just has this tip that sticks out, but then there’s this whole bigger piece below that you don’t see! When students are engaged or, you know, any of us are engaged in surface approaches learning, we’re just getting at that very tip of the iceberg, and we’re not getting at all of that really rich and powerful stuff that’s below.

You know you want to get students to use more of the deep approaches to learning. You can design a course in that way. You bring some of that into a course to figure out ways to get students not just, you know, reflecting on their learning experiences but also engaged in what’s often talked about in education theory as deliberate practice, right?

Where they’re not just doing it to do it, you know. They’re not just doing it to get the paper done. They are engaged in actually practicing a skill and deliberately practicing that skill, thinking about what they’re doing and how to improve it.

It often means not just building those opportunities but making sure that you’re giving the kind of feedback that students need. So that they know how to improve that skill as they go along and as they progress.

Deep and Surface Learning

Now let us move on to Steve Joordens from the University of Toronto. We will know about deep and surface learning approaches from him this time. Read along, folks.

Steve Joordens,  University of Toronto. Surface Learning vs. Deep Learning Approaches
Steve Joordens, University of Toronto. Surface Learning vs. Deep Learning Approaches

Much like the community of inquiry scale gives you a sense of this presence thing. There is a big scale. It is all about trying to get the level at which students are interacting with the course. The biggest division is between the surface versus the deep level.

It is a very predictive scale that he has found in many cases that you know as a basic indicator. If you want to predict marks, this scale predicts them very well. Those with a deep approach learn much better and get much better marks.

Once again, it provides a tool, and then when he tries to do things like even the example of turning reward contingencies in the flirting or something like that, you can get a sense of whether that makes people approach the material more deeply. You can look for changes in the orientation of the scale as a function of the assessments you use. So once again, it’s another good formative tool, something he thinks every good instructor should be keeping an eye on as they make changes to a course.

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