Feature: Surface vs Deep Learning : A Quick Guide

Surface vs Deep Learning : A Quick Guide

Tengku Amina Munira (tg_munira@oum.edu.my)

Deep and surface approaches to learning are terms that are often heard in the academic world. The idea that learners approach learning through different styles has driven extensive research in higher education. Understanding the differences between deep and surface learning is critical for educators as it will help them determine the best methods and strategies to use in order to encourage their learners to learn in ways that matter most.

The table below provides a quick look at the distinctions between deep and surface learning.

SURFACE LEARNING

DEEP LEARNING

KNOWLEDGE
Acquiring knowledge or information about a subject through the gathering of unrelated facts and without integration with prior knowledge

Increasing the knowledge and understanding of a subject by grasping underlying principles

APPLICATION
An ability to apply new knowledge to particular tasks and problems without transferability An ability to apply newly understood principles in a variety of different contexts and situations
ENDURANCE
An ability to recall new information but usually only short-term in nature

Long-lasting personal changey

TIME AND EFFORT
Doing just enough to complete assessment; spending only the time needed to meet minimum requirements Going beyond what is required for assessment; spending time and effort on learning
ASKING QUESTIONS
Constructing knowledge by asking "how" rather than "why"; searching for facts Constructing knowledge by asking "why" and not just "how"; searching for meanings
LEVEL OF RESEARCH
Using only the information provided Thorough research for any given task
COGNITIVE EFFORT
Aiming to memorise; rote learning Aiming to understand using higher-order cognitive skills (e.g. analysing, evaluating, synthesising, relating, etc)
IMPORTANCE OF PERSONAL INTEREST
Spending most of the time on topics of personal interest Aiming to satisfy curiosity and personal interest, but also pursuing topics with less personal interest

Adapted from:

Hay, D. B. (2007). "Using Concept Maps to Measure Deep, Surface and Non-Learning Outcomes." Studies in Higher Education 32(1), pp. 39-57.

Hamm, S., & Robertson, I. (2010). "Preferences for Deep-Surface Learning: A Vocational Education Case Study Using a Multimedia Assessment Activity." Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 26(7), pp. 951-965.

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