One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given in regard to learning is this: “Just follow the footnote trail.” Now, at first, I thought this merely meant that I should pay attention to the footnotes. I soon learned that it is intended for much more. In fact, the pedagogical term for the goal of following the footnote trail is called deeper learning.
I have discovered many definitions for deeper learning. The one I offer you is one that I found to be simple. This definition contrasts deeper learning with superficial learning and through the contrast allows me to pinpoint better that kind of teaching I want to employ to help students in self-discovery learning (a form of Socratic teaching to I am committed in my Philosophy of Teaching):
“Deep Learning is a committed approach to learning where learners learn for life and can apply what they learn to new situations and contexts. Surface learning is a superficial approach to learning where students use knowledge that they acquire for writing exams or papers and soon forget. Deep learners discover and construct their own knowledge by negotiating meanings with peers and can and by making connections between existing and new knowledge. Surface learners receive knowledge passively from your teachers or from books. We can learn deeply, right deeply, read deeply, and engage in any academic test in a deep way. Similarly, we can approach any academic task in a surface way.” — Julian Hermida, Facilitating Deep Learning: Pathways to Success for University and College Teachers (CRC Press, 2014).
Deeper learning follows the footnote trail because the teacher is committed to learning as guided self-discovery. The learner desires to follow the footnote trails to other sources of knowledge because it is fulfilling. The mentor (professor, teacher, instructor) wants to encourage and engage this impulse. The end of this journey may even be knowledge applied with truth, or wisdom.
The mentor maps the learning journey while leaving the student-explorer with options for choosing her pathways. The mentor shares insights with the learner, and directs the thirsty student to the cleanest rivers of knowledge.
In the process of the discovery new knowledge is gained by the student. Reflective learning, a close cousin to deeper learning, should follow deeper learning to apply it.
Reflective learning happens in the space allocated by the mentor for the student to consider universal, transferable principles that have the power to transcend contexts. Deep Learning+Reflective Learning=Applied Learning.Michael A. Milton
In between the search for knowledge, self-discovery, and coming to terms with the meaning of education, reflective learning must also take place as a dedicated exercise of both teacher and student. The reflective learner, at this point, concerned with identifying the values, principles, and universal truths located in the deeper learning experience, harnesses the new knowledge gained through self-discovery, the insights gleaned through reflective learning and applies these new concepts to existing contexts. The highest form of applied learning is that learning which bringing blessing for the common good.
In theological education, deeper learning, reflective learning, and applied learning are critical steps in the process of leadership learning. Leadership learning is a term coined by Robbins, Astin, and Astin.
When applied learning serves a given community the explorer becomes a leader. This is leadership learning.
Deep Teaching Professors
For the student to follow the footnote trail and engage the sequence of deeper learning, reflective learning, and application learning, the professor must be committed to such a pedagogical pathway. This means that the construction and design of courses keep deeper learning and reflective learning at the forefront of the task. Since deeper learning involves peer to peer interaction, as well as self-discovery through research, the professor should prepare lessons that require, or we should say “promote,” such learning environments.
Deep Teaching requires course design and delivery that has the following six learning outcomes in mind: content mastery, effective communication, critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, self-directed learning, and academic mindset.
DeeperLearning4all.com calls for these six tasks of deeper learning:
A Word on Deeper Learning and Competency-based Learning
There has been some discussion and not a few journal articles and books written about the symbiotic relationship between deeper learning and competency-based learning. My service as an instructor in the United States Army Chaplain Center and School is very helpful to me at this point. That organization is under the larger command of TRADOC, the education arm of the Army. The military has practiced competency-based learning for many years. They do so out of necessity. One cannot merely fail a student because he has given incorrect or insufficient answers to a test question. In fact, the soldier learning how to disassemble and reassemble a weapon, cannot just receive a failing grade and dropout. Superficial knowledge will not accomplish the mission of the Army. The Solider must demonstrate accomplished praxis before advancing to the next level. The only way to meet the needs of the military is to train to competency. Therefore, if the soldier cannot take his weapon apart and then put it back together properly within the allotted time, he must repeat the steps until he has mastered it. This, then, is an example of competency-based learning. This principle of teaching and learning can be applied in a higher taxonomy of education that also exists in the military. For example, in the training of Army Chaplains, it is necessary to employ competency-based learning to prepare this officer branch for effective ministry. Superficial learning will not do. Let us consider the subject of ethics as an example. We may teach ethics to Chaplains. But it is of no use to merely recite superficial answers to the instructor and receive a passing grade. Rather, Chaplain students must engage in deeper learning, reflective learning, and, finally, application learning to demonstrate competency; that is, to demonstrate that the Chaplain understands how ethics works in the Army context. So, rather than getting entangled in arguments about whether competency-based learning is or is not deeper learning, I believe the more helpful response is that competency-based learning, as a teaching and learning methodology, functions, of necessity and effectiveness, on the operating system of deeper learning.
The Bottom Line of Deeper Learning
Many education authors and institutions, such as Stanford, are highly committed to the deeper learning model. Indeed, universities like Stanford are supporting new initiatives and institutes to research and promote
And that is worth a second look at deeper learning. It is why I am personally committed to the model as the most effective at igniting that all-important second stage of authentic learning: following the footnote trail.
Bellanca, J. A. Deeper Learning: Beyond 21st Century Skills. Solution Tree Press, 2014. https://books.google.com/books?id=eoezoQEACAAJ.
Biggs, Saga. “Deeper Learning: What Is It and Why Is It So Effective?” InformED, March 7, 2015. Accessed January 14, 2019. https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/deep-learning/.
Brockbank, A., and I. McGill. Facilitating Reflective Learning In Higher Education. McGraw-Hill Education, 2007. https://books.google.com/books?id=S3Ir9ZcHFn8C.
Fullan, M., J. Quinn, and J. McEachen. Deep Learning: Engage the World Change the World. SAGE Publications, 2017. https://books.google.com/books?id=njY9DwAAQBAJ.
Hartley, Keisha. “Deeper Learning.” Deeper Learning, n.d. Accessed January 14, 2019. https://deeperlearning4all.org/.
Hermida, Julian. Facilitating Deep Learning: Pathways to Success for University and College Teachers. CRC Press, 2014.
Jensen, Eric. Deeper Learning: 7 Powerful Strategies for in-Depth and Longer-Lasting Learning /. Edited by LeAnn Nickelsen. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, c2008. http://bvbr.bib-bvb.de:8991/F?func=service&doc_library=BVB01&doc_number=016371078&line_number=0001&func_code=DB_RECORDS&service_type=MEDIA.
McLeod, S., and J. Graber. Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning. SOLUTION TREE, 2018. https://books.google.com/books?id=9dP2uAEACAAJ.
Pellegrino, J. W., M. L. Hilton, C. D. D. L. C. Skills, C. Education, B. T. Assessment, D. B. S. S. Education, and N. R. Council. Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century. National Academies Press, 2013. https://books.google.com/books?id=rVx0AAAAQBAJ.
Roberts, D. C., H. S. Astin, and A. W. Astin. Deeper Learning in Leadership: Helping College Students Find the Potential Within. Wiley, 2007. https://books.google.com/books?id=qpZyQ3JdZz8C.
Zinshteyn, Mikhail. “‘Deeper Learning’ Aimed to Expand as Stanford Researchers Join California Charter Group.” EdSource, n.d. Accessed January 14, 2019. https://edsource.org/2018/deeper-learning-aimed-to-expand-as-stanford-researchers-join-california-charter-group/594899.
. Julian Hermida, Facilitating Deep Learning: Pathways to Success for University and College Teachers (CRC Press, 2014), xix.