Teaching Deep

Just a quick share from the IDEA center, this great little white paper called Promoting Deep Learning, by Barbara J. Millis (the Director of the Teaching and Learning Center at The University of Texas at San Antonio). Here’s a snippit to pique your interest:

To result in deep learning, however, faculty must carefully sequence activities — either in class or online — to provide the student active learning and interactions as identified in the deep-learning model. Students must DO something with the work prepared outside of class. Designing sequences that enable students to approach the same material in multiple ways also builds on the science of human learning cited above. Homework is thus not an artificial assignment stuffed into a teacher’s briefcase for later grading. It becomes the foundation for a meaningful sequence to further deep learning.

There are great examples of graphic organizers in this article too. I’m a big fan of such tools for helping learners make sense of what they’re grappling with — we use them all the time in our PLA program and I use them in faculty development workshops I facilitate as well. In fact, I am using this one in a faculty development workshop about PLA that I am facilitating next month at Tangaza College in Nairobi, Kenya:

Experience to Learning Chronolog

The chronolog is a learning tool we use in our PLA program to help students “discover” (alone, with others outside of class, and with each other in class) what they already know and can do and to make sense of how their life and work experiences contributed to their learning areas. I’m playing with the final column in this version — asking about the significance of their learning to their lives now — and depending on how that works out, we might incorporate this into the chronolog we use with our PLA students.

This book — Learning and Awareness — is about students’ different approaches to learning (surface, strategic, and deep), and was a key text in helping me frame my own dissertation research into developing self-directed learning (and a key text in helping me think about teaching deep). There are intersections among these deep approaches and heutagogical learning theory, for what  deep learning comes down to is actually heutagogical in nature: we’re helping students develop their capability as learners. Teaching deep is not about helping students acquire content knowledge or demonstrate competency (in skills and knowledge) alone. These aspects of learning are important, no doubt, but temporary and fleeting if not taught deep. Teaching deep is about setting students up to be effective, capable learners.  As Blaschke (2012, p. 59) summarizes, capable learners demonstrate:

• self-efficacy, in knowing how to learn and continuously reflect on the learning process;
• communication and teamwork skills, working well with others and being openly communicative;
• creativity, particularly in applying competencies to new and unfamiliar situations and by being adaptable and flexible in approach;
• positive values (Hase & Kenyon, 2000; Kenyon & Hase, 2010; Gardner et al., 2007).

Teaching deep can help develop these capabilities; and these capabilities are assets far more valuable than any job, house, car, or retirement package will ever be.


Blaschke, L.M. (2012). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(1), 56-71. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1076/2113


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