How To Recognise Surface Learners And Help Them Access Deeper Learning

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In 1984, two educational psychologists, Ference Marton and Roger Säljö developed a theory that students can be divided into two separate groups based on their approach to learning. They coined the terms Deep Learning and Surface Learning to distinguish between the two distinct styles of student learning.

Surface Learning characterised by rote learning can be defined as a learning methodology where students learn with the sole purpose of memorizing and storing the curriculum as isolated items in an attempt to get passing grades. It is the superficial retention of course material for the purpose of passing examinations with a lack of understanding or long-term retention of knowledge.

In contrast, Deep Learning is when students develop a full understanding of the material and are able to make sense of what they are being taught. Deep learners are able to ask themselves questions about what they are learning, discuss related ideas with their peers and enjoy comparing the different perspectives.

Surface learning tends to be experienced as a struggle, characterised by boredom and disinterest whereas Deep learning is experienced as an exciting and a gratifying challenge that enhances long-term understanding of the subject.

Over the past few years, various online learning platforms have helped teachers to support surface level learners who want to “scratch beyond the surface” and access a deeper level of learning. One of the key ways that online learning platforms are able to do this is through teaching through modules. Using modules ensures that students can only move to learning a new chapter after proving that they have completely understood the current chapter. This is done through assessments, quizzes and tests placed at the end of every module – the successful completion of which unlocks the next chapter. This essentially ensures that instead of getting all the course content at once the students get them in bite-sized pieces, which are easier to process and not overwhelming to the student.

Another way that online learning platforms help students get more involved and have a deeper understanding of the subject is through they array of collaboration tools for students and teachers that they offer. These tools promote discussions and debates among the students, making learning an enriching experience as well as helping surface learners to get more involved in the learning process. The opportunity for students to actively engage in reflective conversations and explore different module experiences and differing perspectives is directly related to deeper learning and improving student performance.

Online learning platforms also provides for teachers to interact with the students struggling with concepts taught in the classroom. In a traditional classroom scenario with a class full of students it can be a bit difficult to truly personalize the learning experience for the students. However in a learning management system, using the various chat and social media platforms, teachers can offer the students extra help and additional resources as needed, thus helping surface learners to bridge the gap and become deep learners.

Every surface learning student has the possibility to dive deep into the course. Using a learning management system is a great way to engage your students and help them access a deeper level of learning.