Deep vs Superficial Learning: Engage Your Students to Learn More

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We all learn differently, and our interest in an online course can influence how much we learn about the subject.

Think about your biggest passion. You know a lot about it, right?

That’s because you’ve taken the time to build up your knowledge and skills in this area and learn how to apply them to a range of scenarios in your life, either professionally or personally. You enjoy learning more about the topic and might binge consume content to continue to grow in that area. That’s deep learning.

Now think about something you have no interest in learning about.

In comparison to your passions, you probably know very little about the things you’re not interested in. In fact, you probably just know enough to get by.

Pythagoras’s Theorem anyone?

Unless you work in a specific job or have a passionate interest in that particular area of maths, you probably only learned this theorem for one reason: to pass a test when you were in school. That’s surface learning. You only learned what was needed to achieve a set objective. You didn’t bother to learn more about the subject or have it influence your life beyond passing that maths test in school.

What is deep learning?

Deep learning can change you. Your learning leads to mastering new skills and gaining information which helps you form a new perspective.

This type of learning can be led by set goals or pure interest in a topic from your student.

Those goals could be different from student to student. For example, for one student, their strategy might be to gain a qualification. For another student, they might want to learn how to do a particular skill.

However, the key factor of deep learning is that students are going ‘all in’ on learning the information because they have a genuine interest and are determined to succeed.

An example of deep learning

Your student might approach an online marketing course with the sole aim of running Facebook ads to make millions selling their product online.

Therefore, their goal is to learn about Facebook ads and how they can lead to lots of sales, particularly sales which generate a large amount of income.

However, as a deep learner, the student won’t just focus on learning about how to create and publish a Facebook ad. Instead, they will also consume content around the subject, for example, how to identify your target customer, the psychology of selling online, and how to run ads on other social media platforms.

Through learning and consuming all of this content, the student can then come up with their own ideas for running their Facebook ads. They have consumed a wide range of knowledge which will help them apply what they have learned in your course to real life.

What is superficial learning?

Superficial learning is also known as ‘surface learning.’

With superficial learning, students are just learning what they need to get where they want to go.

For example, in my GCSE Physics class, I learned the facts that I needed to pass my GCSE exam. I had no interest in the topic as a whole and therefore didn’t do further reading around the topic or learn to critically think about what I was being taught.

My end goal was simply to pass my GCSE.

Therefore, I applied superficial learning because I just retained the information without applying or learning any critical thinking about the topic.

An example of superficial learning

Let’s go back to our example of a student going through a marketing course. But this time, the student isn’t overly interested in the topic, they just want to learn how to run Facebook ads.

This student is likely to skip over any content not relevant to their end goal. They might only consume content if there is a reason, such as an assessment that needs to be passed to unlock the next stage of the course.

Approaching a course in this way will mean that the student will still achieve their aim of learning to run Facebook ads, but, they will miss out on learning to apply the information to other areas of their life and business.

How can I help encourage deep learning for students taking my online course?

Quite simply by linking our course content together so that it is obvious to students that all content is relevant to their end goal.

You could do this in 1 of 2 ways:

  1. Explain to your student from the outset that every part of your course content is linked. Often, students will skip learning content if they can’t see how it all links together and is relevant to them. This is why it’s important to identify your students’ needs and the problems you will solve right at the outset of your online course plan.
  2. Apply settings to your course so that modules and lessons must be completed in a certain order. This ensures that students consume, at least on some level, all of your content before getting to the bit they really want to learn. Whilst this may seem like a good idea, on balance, adult students need to be treated like adults. We all have the autonomy to decide what we want to learn and when. If you are going to implement course completion rules, make sure it is to benefit your students and not just you wanting to ‘brain dump’ everything you know about the course topic.

Encourage further learning

Deep learners like to do just that. Learn deeply about the particular topic which interests them Creating a ‘useful resources’ or ‘further reading’ section in your online course allows your students to go deeper and learn more about the topic that interests them the most. Often, students buy courses because they want all of the information in one place. They don’t have the time to be searching all over the internet for the information they need or want. Therefore, giving students ideas for additional research helps to plug this gap.

Remember: everything in your course needs to be relevant and get your student to where they want to go.

This post was proofread using Grammarly.

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