Deep Learning

© Francois Victor Tochon

Harmony represents a homeostatic goal that defines personal and social balance. It emerges from individual and collective efforts. Deep learning is significantly related to an intention to understand thoroughly and meaningfully. Thorough understanding characterizes deep education (Akbar Hessami & Sillitoe, 1990). The focus is on what is signified, and the arguments proposed, with a linking process to prior information and to everyday experience (Morgan, 1993). Studies in higher education defined a deeper way of reading texts for learning (Marton and Säljö, 1976; Biggs, 1993; Entwistle, 2000). Research on learning styles deciphered important differences in the way learners approach texts. Ramsden (1992) contrasted the Deep and Surface approaches. Surface learning focuses on forms and signs, while deep learning focuses on meaning. Deep learning links new knowledge to prior knowledge across various fields while surface learning memorizes unrelated parts. Surface learning associates facts and concepts without reflection while deep learning relates theoretical concepts to daily experience. The emphasis is external and fragmented for the surface learners as it relates to the demands of assessment, while it is internal and holistic for the deep learner.

Deep knowledge has different dimensions (Sandberg & Barnard, 1997): it encompasses multiple models and viewpoints in the domain of study, the relations between models and viewpoints, the reasoning procedures to solve problems, and the principles to solve new, unfamiliar issues. But there is much more. Nowadays educational psychologists have a hard time imagining depth. The reason is that researchers probably want to avoid falling in the trap of deep psychology, which has been associated with psychoanalysis. Its interpretive insights were either sexually oriented or based on mythic grounds that are in disagreement with current trends, based on the cognitive transformation of the behavioral stimulus-response into if-then procedural connections across mental models. Thus psychology should reinvent depth. Sociocultural, socioaffective, ecological and philosophical understandings allow deep learners to connect the dots and transcend the limited framework of cognitive psychology. Deep processing involves a re-conceptualizing of how reality is viewed (Bradford, 2001). In contrast, surface learning is task-oriented and is based upon extrinsic motivation. Surface learners store and reproduce information while deep learners attempt to grasp meaning with the aim of transforming the material provided (Säljö, 2003). Among the factors that contribute to a deep approach, the philosophy of learning has a tremendous importance. You learn best what you feel you need to know and when what you learn is life-supporting and may enhance society and the world at large. Striving for knowledge is a major characteristic of deep learners (Atherton, 2005). It determines the way of perceiving new knowledge. Therefore theorizing plays a key role in a deep approach to learning. As well, deep learning defines a situation in which the teacher is not the only source of inspiration and knowledge.


Tochon, F. V. (2010). Deep Education. Journal for Educators, Teachers and Trainers (JETT), 1, 1-12.


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