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Promoting Deep Learning in

College Students
Moving Students beyond Grades

Professor Terry Doyle

Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning
Ferris State University

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A Reminder for Us All!!!
No college recruiter or grad school
admissions officer has the following as
their slogan

College graduates that are good note-
takers and do great on multiple choice
The Key to Students’ Learning
 The one who does the work does the
We don’t all Think Alike
 Add 17 + 56 in your head!

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We don’t all Think Alike
 A—In columns like on paper

 B—Added 10 to 56 and 7 to 66

 C—Added 20 to 56 and subtracted 3 from 76

 D—Other
Definition of Learning
 Learning is a
change in the
neuron-patterns of
the brain
(Ratey, 2002)

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A Teacher’s Definition of Learning

The ability to use information after

significant periods of disuse
 the ability to use the information to solve
problems that arise in a context different
(if only slightly) from the context in which
the information was originally used
Robert Bjork, UCLA, Memory and Metamemory
The Brain and Learning
 The key message
about the brain is
this: “The neurons
that fire together
wire together”

(Hebb, 1949, Ratey 2002)
The Brain and Learning
 Meaning
the more we repeat the same
actions and thoughts—

 the more we encourage the

formation of certain

 the more fixed the neural

circuits in the brain for that
activity become.
 (Ratey, 2002 pg 31)

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The Brain and Learning
 “Use it or lose it” Is
the corollary:

 if you don’t exercise

brain circuits, the
connections will not
be adaptive and will
slowly weaken and
could be lost. (Ratey 2002,
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The Brain and Learning
 “The brain is a pattern seeking device”

 It relates whole concepts to one another

and looks for similarities, differences, or
relationships between them.” (Ratey, 2002, pg.5)
Deep vs. Surface Learning
 Deep and Surface are two approaches to
study, derived from original empirical
research by Marton and Säljö (1976) and
since elaborated by Ramsden (1992),
Biggs (1987, 1993) and Entwistle (1981),
among others.
Deep vs. Surface Learning

 The following slides are based on the work

of :
 ATHERTON J S (2004) Teaching and Learning: Deep and Surface
learning [On-line] UK: Available:
Deep vs. Surface Learning
 John Biggs' famous distinction between
surface and deep learning has had a
major impact on thinking about the need
to make learners do something with the
information which normally forms the basis
of transactions between teachers and
 ATHERTON J S (2004) Teaching and Learning: Deep and Surface learning [On-line] UK:
Available: http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/deepsurf.htm
Surface Learning
 Put briefly, surface
learning occurs where
students are too busy
accepting information
that they have no time
or motivation to
process it

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Deep Learning
 Deep learning, is mostly measured by the
extent to which qualitative changes –
rather than mere content memorization –
occur in students at the end of learning.
 It involves more processing, often through
discussion, reflection and in response to
the stimulus that problems or tasks
requiring that processing
It’s not the Method of Instruction
 Of course real insight into learning comes
when it is realized that the particular
educational form (lecture, tutorial, online
reading, computer mediated discussion
etc) is not the determinant of whether or
not learning is surface or deep.
Learner-Centered Teaching
Rather, the way in which we conceive of
the roles of students and teachers in
learning –
 the development of curricula and tasks on
the basis of this conception, is the
significant determinant.

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Grade Grabbers
 There is a third approach to learning,
known as the “Achieving” which can be
summarized as a very well-organized form
of Surface approach, and in which the
motivation is to get good marks.
Grade Grabbers
 For grade grabbers the
exercise of learning is
construed as a game,

 The acquisition of technique

improves performance.

 It works as well as the

analogy: however, insofar as
learning is not a game, it
breaks down.

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Deep Learning Surface Learning
 Focus is on “what is signified”  Focus is on the “signs” (or on
the learning as a signifier of
something else)

 Relates previous knowledge to

new knowledge  Focus on unrelated parts of
the task

 Relates knowledge from

different courses  Information for assessment is
simply memorized

(based on Ramsden, 1988)

Deep Learning Surface Learning
 Relates theoretical  Facts and concepts
ideas to everyday are associated
experience unreflectively

 Relates and  Principles are not

distinguishes distinguished from
evidence and examples
(based on Ramsden, 1988)
Deep Learning Surface Learning
 Organizes and  Task is treated as an
structures content into external imposition
coherent whole
 Emphasis is
 Emphasis is internal, external, from
from within the demands of
student assessment

(based on Ramsden, 1988)

Surface Learners
 The Surface learner is
trying to “suss out”
what the teacher
wants and to provide
it, and is likely to be
motivated primarily by
fear of failure.

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Surface Learners
 One interesting study has suggested that
efforts by teachers to convey that what
they want is Deep learning only succeeds
in getting Surface learners to engage in
ever more complex contextualizing
exercises, trying to reproduce the features
of the Deep approach, from a Surface
basis. (Ramsden, Beswick and Bowden, 1986)
Deep Learning Surface Learning
 Deep learning is  Surface learning
experienced as tends to be
exciting and a experienced as an
gratifying challenge. uphill struggle,
characterized by
fighting against
Surface Learning
 There is some
evidence that
assessment methods
can “reach back” into
courses in such a way
as to make Surface
approaches more

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Surface Learning
 Many current university students have
been "coached" by their teachers to get
the grades they need for admission: they
have been trained to be surface learners,
and their experience is that it "works".
 Why should they take the risk of working
in a different way?
Surface Learning
 Surface learning seems to be more likely
when learning is isolated from practice.

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Surface Learning
 Surface learning is perhaps a function of the
isolation of academic life from the real world
where knowledge and ignorance have real
consequences, rather than merely affecting
assessment grades.

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Control, Choice and Deep Learning
 Who make the decisions about your course?

 A=Faculty

 B=Jointly

 C=Students
Control and Learning
 A=Faculty B=Jointly C=Students

3. Course content
4. Course Calendar/due dates, topic order
5. Pace of the course/lessons/class
6. Types of assignments given
7. Number of evaluations/assessments used
Control and Learning
 A=Faculty B=Jointly C=Students

6. Grading Policy

7. Learning environment/attendance
policy, late work policy , late for class
food, drink in class etc.

8. Flow of communication in the classroom/when

questions are asked/when discussion is held
Control and Learning
 A=Faculty B=Jointly C=Students

9. What textbook will be used

10.Types of evaluations /assessments used

11.If formative student feedback will

be asked for

12. When office hours will be

Control, Choice and Deep Learning

 Based on the work of James Zull, 2002;

William Perry, 1997 and Perry and
Magnusson, 1987

 The brain seeks to

constantly be in
control—it is an
evolutionary part of its
survival priority (Zull, 2002)

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Control, Choice and Deep Learning
 If students perceive a
loss of control, (the
belief that they cannot
influence or control
events) that
orientation strongly
affects their academic
(Perry, 1997)

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Control, Choice and Deep Learning
 The insistence on
control causes
humans to constantly
make decisions that
give them control
whether they
understand all of the
implication or not of
the decision( Zull, 2002)
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Control, Choice and Deep Learning
 No outside influence
can necessarily cause
the brain to give up its
control—it will decide
for itself
 The brain will decide
what it wants to learn
and what it does not
want to learn (Zull, 2002)
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Control, Choice and Deep Learning

 This choice is often based on previous

learning experiences—good or bad (Perry and
Magnusson, 1987)

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Control, Choice and Deep Learning

 If it is seen as important to students they

will choose to learn it

 This decision often takes time and multiple

exposures to the information before it is
 (Zull, 2002)
Deep Learning and Control
 Motivation—the
continued use of
external motivation
may force the brain
to give up control-“ I
don’t really want to
learn this but I need
the grade”
Deep Learning and Control
 The brain often makes one of two
choices in this external motivation

 Become a minimalist--do the least

amount of work needed to --
 1. Get the reward (grade)
 2. Avoid the punishment (failure)
Deep Learning and Control
 Ortry to devise
a way to do no
work but still get
the reward or
avoid the
Deep Learning and Control
What gives students a sense of control in
their learning?

 Relevance—I can use this or see where I

might use it in the future

 Authenticity—It is a real issue in my life

or the lives of others right now
Deep Learning and Control
3. Choice—I have some say in what happens to
me—I can use my learning strengths or
interests to enhance my learning

4. Meaningfulness—I care about it

Deep Learning and Control
5. It connects with what is already motivating
the student —It has to do with the career they
want, the person they want to be, the life style
they want to have

6. Challenging—Students get a sense of

accomplishment from doing it, it tests their
Knowing WHY Leads to Deep
 Teaching is in many ways no different
than any other human to human

 If I don’t know why you want me to help

you with a project or if I can’t see how
taking on a certain task has some benefit
to me I am hesitant to do it.
Creating Relevance for Learning
 1. Place learning activities in the context of current
knowledge of how the human brain learns

 2. Place learning activities in the context of how they aid

in the preparation for careers

 3. Place learning activities in the context of life long


 4. Place learning in the context of immediate future

learning—the next course, next year etc.
Example of Creating Relevance for
Teaching and Learning Strategies
 Reflective Activities—Journaling
 1.It maximizes the opportunity for students to understand new
material by examining how the material connects to previously
learned material

 2. It expands students’ current view of the world by considering how

the new material might alter their current views of the world or

 3. It increases the number of connections to other neuro networks

increasing the likelihood that students will be able to recall the
information in the future

 4. It expands the number of cues that students can respond to in

order to recall the new information
Relevance of Reflective Activities
 5. It increase the number of neuro networks for the new
learning by coding it through the tactile and kinesthetic
senses (writing)

 6. Reflection is a key element of the natural way the

brain process information.( Zull p.17)

 7. It can help make emotional connections for the new

information enhancing recall.

 8. Journaling causes students to move from receivers of

knowledge to producers of knowledge (a frontal lobe
Decisions about Teaching



Methods, Assignments

Creating Deep Learning
 The key action is to always address the
questions WHY?HOW?
 Why am I telling you this?*
 Why is it important?
 How is this relevant to being a_________?
 Why do we need to learn this?
 Why is this part of the curriculum?
 How is this going to help me?
Creating Deep Learning
 Why am I telling you this?
 If the information is complex and difficult–
then it should be talked/lectured about

 If students can learn it on their own or

teach each other than let them.
Creating Deep Learning
 “The one who
does the talking
does the
learning” –Thomas

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Creating Deep Learning
 Encouraging faculty/student interaction (e.g. meet
groups to plan projects, "personalize" teaching)

 Encouraging student/student interaction (e.g. group

projects, peer tutoring)

 Using active and interactive teaching methods (e.g. case

studies, buzz groups)
Teaching Strategies to Foster "Deep" Versus "Surface Learning
Elizabeth Campbell, Centre for University Teaching
 Dr. Christopher Knapper, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Instructional Development Centre
at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario
Creating Deep Learning
 Making links with what students already know to
encourage sense of structure

 Allowing students input into course goals and methods,

being receptive and flexible

 Discussing teaching and learning skills explicitly

 Trying to link course topics to students’ lives and career

Teaching Strategies to Foster "Deep" Versus "Surface Learning
Elizabeth Campbell, Centre for University Teaching
Dr. Christopher Knapper, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Instructional Development Centre at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario
Creating Deep Learning
 Define assessment
goals and tasks
clearly, and ensure
they are congruent
with learning

 Allow choice of
assessment tasks

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Creating Deep Learning
 Stress tasks that
allow time for
information gathering,
depth, and reflection
(e.g. projects vs.

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Creating Deep Learning
 Encourage collaborative
 Choose tasks that require
integration of information
from a range of sources
 Give full and proactive
feedback on labs,
assignments, and tests
and require students to
use the feedback to

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Teaching Approaches that Creating
Deep Learning
 Problem-based learning
Students are confronted with an ill-
structured problem that mirrors real-world

 Well chosen problems encourage

students to define problems, identify what
information is needed, and engage in
solution generation and decision making.
Teaching Approaches that Creating
Deep Learning
 http://www.saltspring.com/capewest/pbl.htm

 Samples of how to teach problem based

Teaching Approaches that Creating
Deep Learning
 Case Based learning

Cases are factually-based, complex problems

written to stimulate classroom discussion and
collaborative analysis.

Case teaching involves the interactive, student-

centered exploration of realistic and specific
Teaching Approaches that Creating
Deep Learning
As students
consider problems
from a perspective
which requires
analysis, they strive
to resolve questions
that have no single
right answer.

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Teaching Approaches that Creating
Deep Learning
 http://www.pitt.edu/~ciddeweb/fds/lrn_cas

 Website for case based learning

Teaching Approaches that Creating
Deep Learning
 Performance/ Presentation

 The action of having to demonstrate,

teach, guide, or inform, the whole class
or an invited group of experts
increases the likelihood for deep
Teaching Approaches that Creating
Deep Learning
 Students’ performance is public, it is critiqued
and it has a much higher risk and greater

 These factors motivate students to learn well

what they are to present—in addition perhaps
the highest form of demonstrating
comprehension is the ability to teach others. (D.
Sousa, How the Brain Learns, 2001)
Teaching Approaches that Creating
Deep Learning
 Student Research

 Research is an active, diligent and systematic

process of inquiry in order to discover, interpret
or revise facts, events, behaviors, or theories, or
to make practical applications with the help of
such facts, laws or theories.

 The term "research" is also used to describe the

collection of information about a particular
Teaching Approaches that Creating
Deep Learning
 Academic Service Learning

 Service-learning is a form of public engagement

and experiential learning.

 It is a pedagogical model which intentionally

integrates academic learning with authentic
community service in a credit bearing academic
Teaching Approaches that Creating
Deep Learning
 Service Learning
 Students participate in a service activity which
meets needs identified by the community and
critically reflect on that activity.

 Thus students gain a deep understanding of

course content, a commitment to socially
responsible citizenship, and develop skills
and understandings needed to contribute to
civic well-being.
Teaching the Patterns of the Subject
Area can Enhance Deep Learning
 James Ratey in his book The User’s
Guide to the Brain offers this simple
description of the human brain— “ the
brain is a pattern seeking device”

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Patterns are a Key
The way in which a student organizes the
new information - the degree to which she
can create meaningful and familiar
patterns – is a key to retaining the

The information must be integrated into

our permanent conceptual scheme
Try to remember the following:

Now try again:

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Try to remember these letters:

Now try again:


Recognition of Patterns
 Helping students to see or discover the patterns
that exist in the information that we teach is a
vital part of helping them to become deep
learners learners.

 As students discover the patterns within

information it moves their learning from
memorizing isolated bits of data or information to
meaningful understandings of how ideas and
concepts are formed or fit together.
Advanced Organizers
 Advanced organizers are powerful
instruments for focusing students’ attention
 Examples:
~Agree-Disagree Chart
~Helps emotions and helps illustrate concepts

Agree Disagree
Faculty should get fully Faculty should pay part
paid health care of their health care
Advanced Organizers

 Similarities and Differences

What are the similarities and differences

between the Detroit Lion and the Chicago Bears

Chicago wins some games and Detroit loses most games

Advanced Organizers
 Mind Maps: show relationships in
various ways and levels

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 References
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Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario
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