As Donnison and Penn-Edwards (2012) note, a significant number of first-year students apply surface learning regardless of their course. In addition to that, this essay argues that students have been continually encouraged by their teachers to adopt a learning approach that is deep, commonly referred to as deep learning. As multiple studies indicate, deep learning is not extremely deep or problematic to apply; it is simply characterized by what it is not. Notably, deep learning does not entail memorizing, it does not entail regurgitating or reciting what a student deems hard to understand (Biggs, 2011). In essence, deep learning is true knowledge or understanding. Finally, this essay argues that most students in their first year of learning adopt a strategic approach in their studies. In other words, they work hard to achieve high grades so that they can please the authorities.
As the name suggests, surface learning entails focusing on just the “surface” of the study material as opposed to deep learning which involves a deeper processing and comprehension of the study material. Deep learners can be easily identified as they possess notable features. Deep learners, for instance, write their own questions for study purposes, think hard about a certain problem before searching it in books or in the internet, close their study materials and reflect on what they have learned, and break down complex concepts in a systematic manner (Samarakoon, Fernando, Rodrigo & Rajapakse, 2013). It must be noted that the surface learning approach is not appropriate for use in universities despite the fact that most first-year students use it, according to Donnison and Penn-Edwards (2012). However, this essay argues that as first-year students transition into university, they tend to adopt a strategic learning approach. In high school, a majority of students apply surface learning as most of their learning contents simply need a shallow understanding. In other words, high school students who have the ability to remember the crucial words and formulas can easily pass their exams without necessarily having to conduct extensive research. On the other hand, learning in universities is very different from high school, and for this reason, university students should learn to conduct extensive research if they need to understand a certain concept or question. The main reason why most first-year students adopt surface learning is that it is easy to use; it just entails reproduction of information for assessment demands and also purposes to achieve requirements minimally (Riding & Rayner, 2013). Through controlled experiments, it has been uncovered that deep learning can assist students to comprehend the key elements or contents of a problem more effectively. This is because deep learning makes students focus on the deeper meaning of the study material, formulate their personal understanding, relate and connect ideas, ask questions in regard to the study material, and explore the material beyond the requirements.
For the aforementioned reasons, teachers encourage first-year students to apply a deep learning approach. First, deep learning helps students comprehend the deeper meaning of a study material. As opposed to a surface learning approach, which focused on achieving the course requirements, deep learning goes deep, thus enabling the student make sense of study materials (Biggs, 2012). Besides that, students are able to develop their own ideas out of the study content as they possess a deep understanding. Second, deep learning helps students engage meaningfully in tasks while putting special emphasis on principles, themes, main ideas, and the underlying meaning. In other words, deep learning searches for the reason things happen or why things are in their current state. For instance, in the first lesson, a student will learn how earthquakes come about i.e. movement of tectonic plates. In the second lesson, the same student will map regions that have witnessed major earthquakes in the past one decade. By so doing, the student will gain a proper understanding of why some regions experience earthquakes whereas others do not. This process of uncovering why things are the way they are can be defined as deep learning. It entails evaluating, explaining, hypothesizing, inferring, and so forth (Schmeck, 2013). Third, through deep learning, students can relate the gained knowledge across multiple contexts. This is commonly referred to as the transfer of learning. In essence, this entails applying the knowledge gained in class to another scenario or different context. This type of extension occurs mainly during the school years where students apply class knowledge to future courses, home scenarios, and in workplace situations (Heikkil?, Lonka, Nieminen & Niemivirta, 2012). The goals of an English class, for instance, is not just to pass the exam, but also to apply the knowledge in other contexts or life situations such as reading and writing. On the same note, the objective of passing through a history course is not to memorize dates of major events such as battles, but to create a wide historical dimension that enables one to connect with the current and future world. There are various ways in which students can transfer or apply knowledge in different contexts. For instance, essay writing skills may be transferred to writing history essays. Moving deeper into the continuum, upon learning about the American Revolution, they can start exploring the differences and similarities between the American Revolution and other revolutions in different parts of the world (Trigwell, Ellis & Han, 2012). In addition to this, a good chess player can apply his/her strategies in a political campaign.
This essay maintains that many first-year students apply strategic learning. By definition, strategic learning incorporates both surface and deep approaches to achieve the set objectives. The objectives are set according to the requirements and the learning conditions including the time available to prepare for a test. Entwistle and Ramsden (2015) describe this as strategic and Biggs and Tang (2011) describe it as achieving learning. It must be noted, however, that strategic learners are not like deep learners. Strategic learners are after high grades as opposed to deep learners who are primarily driven by the desire to understand concepts. Strategic learners spend a great deal of their study time exploring questions asked by their teachers (their efforts are tailored towards pleasing the authority). For instance, they master algorithmic steps and cram formulas, but they eventually fail as they have not understood things conceptually (Marton & Booth, 2013). Strategic learners have a general pattern of working their way to the top. They steadily put effort to their learning, they try to compile the best learning materials and conditions, their effort and time are put into maximum use, they have a clear-cut understanding of the criteria and requirements of a particular assessment, and are excellent in connecting the study materials to what the lecturers prefer.
As seen in this essay, teachers try their level best to discourage students from developing a surface learning approach. Instead, teachers advise their students to adopt the deep learning approach which will lead to greater success or better academic outcomes. Deep learning focuses on the deeper meaning of a concept. However, this essay has uncovered that first-year students apply the strategic learning approach. This means that they are more focused on clinching high grades so that they can please their teachers. The clear-cut differences between the surface and deep learning are rendered useless in scenarios where teachers decide to adopt superficial measures such as multiple-choice quizzes which mainly test the ability to remember. It has been revealed that the reason why students memorize isolated facts without necessarily understanding them is that the approach has enabled them to attain good grades. Students can only shift to deep learning if teachers decide to do away with questions that can be solved using the cramming technique.
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