Feature: Learners' Perception and Sense of Ownership:The Keys to Deep Learning

Learners' Perception and Sense of Ownership:The Keys to Deep Learning

Selina Marie Rogers (nselina@hotmail.com)

Recall your days as an undergraduate, and how you browsed through endless shelves of books at the university library. Did you usually pick a title that had direct relevance to the upcoming exam? Or did you choose a title that would have helped you to explore a topic of your own unique interest just so you could satiate your curiosity? My bet is that many did the former. The reason is simple: "Students do not, for example, simply read an article. They read it for a purpose connected with a course of study and in response to the requirements of those who teach a course" (Ramsden, 1992, p. 198).

When I was asked to write about deep learning, I wondered about the meaning of the term. I found that the meaning encompasses learners' attitude and approach to learning. Deep learning requires learners to relate their learning with their prior knowledge and experience while they analyse, synthesise, solve problems and think metacognitively.

In other words, learners use higher-order cognitive skills to integrate their learning with real-life experiences, rather than merely memorising facts they think they will be tested on. I also found that deep learning is about learners having a genuine interest in what they learn - being engaged with their learning for its own sake.

Now, how many of us truly did that during our university days? If you did, you must have been one of the few fortunate ones because most learners have been found to resort to surface learning such as rote learning or superficial understanding of facts for the sole purpose of scoring high grades in assessments.

As I read more and more about deep learning, I discovered that the term "learner perception" kept appearing in most of the articles. As Ramsden (1992, p. 200) notes: "students' perceptions of assessment, teaching, and courses may influence their attitudes and approaches to studying... Students' approaches depend on their interest in the task and their previous experience of the area to which it relates; these influences are themselves associated with their perceptions of how the work will be assessed and with the degree of choice over content and method of learning available to the student."

I have found this to be true - we do learn best what we believe we need to know. When we perceive something to be important or interesting to us, we are more intrinsically motivated to learn it because this learning process gives us a sense of ownership that ultimately becomes the strongest element in lasting learning. When we perceive something to be our own, in this case, the knowledge from learning, we naturally place a higher value on it.

With this in mind, how can students be encouraged to experience the relevance of a subject matter for their own understanding? How can students engage in meaningful learning - learning something for the satisfaction of learning? How do we, as tutors, lead our learners to deep learning, rather than surface learning? Perhaps, we could reflect on the questions below:

(a) Do we tutor at the learners' own level?.
Very often, being 'subject-matter experts', we tend to go so far into our own area that we forget that learners' knowledge is superficial, essentially, compared to ours. This lack of empathy and consideration is usually reflected in the way we tutor, which ultimately leads to learners getting lost during tutorials. So, naturally, learners resort to surface learning when they prepare for assessments.

(b) Do we show enthusiasm in the subject matter?
Since there is always time constraint in tutorials, we find ourselves rushing through the syllabus. How often have we injected 'life' into the tutorials? How often have we considered arousing learners' interest in the subject matter so that they could develop personal meaning in learning or have a sense of ownership?

(c) Do we provide feedback on learners' work?
Feedback on learners' work influences learning. When learners do not receive sufficient information about their performance, this could make further learning an uphill task. On the other hand, if learners are aware of their performance and ways to further enhance it, their perception of learning and of themselves would somehow spur them to deep learning.

Let's have another undergraduate flashback: a few days after taking a gruelling three-hour exam, you found that you had forgotten most of the facts you memorised. However, this did not matter to you because you were not even interested in the subject matter in the first place.

Has this pattern repeated itself for you, and have you transferred it to your leaners? This is the question we tutors need to ask ourselves over and over again to ensure that we do justice to our learners.


  1. Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to Teach in Higher Education: The Context of Learning in Academic Departments. New York: Routledge Falmer.
  2. Rhem, J. (1995). "Deep/Surface Approaches to Learning: An Introduction." The National Teaching & Learning Forum 5(1).

* Selina Marie Rogers is an OUM subject-matter expert (SME).

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