Deep Learning

A recurring theme of articles on this site is the question of what our goals should be and a clear element of this is a desire to go beyond a recall of facts and encourage deep learning. Whether this be as a result of asking non-googleable questions, encouraging students to evaluate ideas that matter and create original content while applying a mix of thinking skills and habits of mind, the aim is to evolve our students into deeply reflective learners.

Katrina Schwartz on Mind/Shift reports a study into Deeper Learning that raises some interesting points on how this may be achieved. The study reported six competencies for deeper learning; 'mastering content, critical thinking, effective written and oral communication, collaboration, learning how to learn, and developing academic mindsets.'

The report discusses a range of strategies that promote deeper thinking including careful design of the questions students are asked to engage with, the inclusion of opportunities for students to be hands on and build things and for them to deal with real world problems.

Allowing students to have a voice in the design of topics that genuinely engage their interests is one strategy offered. At Redlands students during their final term of Year Six engage in a 'Personal Passion Project'. Students design this project in collaboration with their teachers and are able to pursue any topic as long as it is personally relevant and designed in a way that will require them to use their high order thinking skills. This means that students are encouraged away from topics that require only recall or curation of facts easily found on Google. In practical terms this often involves a minor adjustment to the wording of a project; a process assisted by the use of verbs applicable to Bloom's 'High Order Thinking Skills'. Over the years we have run this project the one consistent element is that student engagement goes through the roof, the quality of thinking is very high and the results are amazing. In recent years students have made a laser engraving machine from old printers, explored low cost recycled insulation materials for emergency housing and evaluated programmes for training netball players at an elite level. At the end of term students present their works to an audience of parents and teachers from our Senior School. Access to a real audience is an important part of this process and ensures students see the relevance of their learning, not to mention the importance of the positive feedback provided by an impressed group of adults.

The report touches on the importance of developing mindsets that will allow student to achieve success with four beliefs identified as crucial;  

  • I can change my intelligence and abilities through effort, 
  • I can succeed, 
  • LI belong in this learning community, 
  • This work has value and purpose for me.

These mindsets closely resemble the Positive Thoughts identified by 'Lifelong Achievement Group'. Developed by Andrew Martin 'The Motivation and Engagement Wheel' groups factors that promote and block success into four categories; Positive Thoughts, Positive Behaviours, Negative Behaviours and Negative Thoughts. Positive Thoughts include, self-belief, valuing and learning focus while Negative Thoughts include uncertain control and anxiety. Read more about the 'The Motivation and Engagement Wheel' at

Deep Learning is identified as an emerging trend for Education in the '2014 NMC Horizon Report' where the maturation of existing technologies in schools is predicted to see an expansion in the use of this to fuel deeper levels of engagement with challenge based learning linked to real world scenarios. 

As technologies such as tablets and smartphones now have proven applications in schools, educators are leveraging these tools, which students already use, to connect the curriculum with real life issues. The active learning approaches are decidedly more student-centered, allowing them to take control of how they engage with a subject and to brainstorm and implement solutions to pressing local and global problems. The hope is that if learners can connect the course material with their own lives and their surrounding communities, then they will become more excited to learn and immerse themselves in the subject matter. Read 2014 NMC K-12 Horizon Report

Read the article 'Beyond Knowing Facts, How Do We Get to a Deeper Level of Learning?'

by Nigel Coutts