Deeper Learning

Deeper Learning


”Deeper learning” is defined as “the process of learning for transfer”—the sort of learning that never needs to ask, “What good will this do me in real life?” A student who masters deeper learning can grasp intuitively how human psychology helps an architect design structures that people place confidence in, or how an understanding of mathematics benefits the naturalist in tracking population trends among animal species.

Many educators classify practical knowledge by three categories:

  1. Cognitive—an ability to understand and analyze problems and to find solutions.
  2. Intrapersonal—an understanding of how information applies to oneself as an individual, and how to manage oneself to make the best use of it.
  3. Interpersonal—the ability to communicate ideas to others and function as a fully productive member of a team.

Deeper learning means that students come out competent in all three categories.

Much of traditional “rote learning” (which regards the smartest student as the one who memorizes the most facts and formulas) is actually shallow learning: the kids learn enough to get high scores on standardized tests, but they never learn to care about anything beyond high grades, or to consider how the material might be useful someday in helping them do anything worthwhile.


If you’re a teacher wanting to deepen your students’ learning, put the following hints to use:

  • Before the term begins, write out deep-learning goals based on the prescribed material. Share those goals with your students on the first day of class.
  • Plan a variety of active tasks and projects throughout the term: give the kids more to think about than taking notes, reading textbooks, and writing essays.
  • Always encourage free participation and exchange of ideas—even invite students to openly disagree with you. Remember, your real goal is to get them into the habit of thinking and making connections on their own.
  • Provide detailed feedback on whatever your students complete. And encourage them to generate personal ideas on how they might do better next time.
  • Remember that “provide feedback” applies to the “smart” students as well—perhaps especially to them. Traditionally, the kid who got all the right answers was simply congratulated, as though he or she had reached the final peak of competence. Far better to encourage them to build on their success and reach even greater heights of knowledge and application.
  • Whatever your official classroom focus, take time to talk about self-appreciation, individual goals, working as a team, and contributing to the world beyond. For a long time, schools have focused almost entirely on the cognitive side of learning, leaving the teaching of intrapersonal and interpersonal skills to homes and churches. Even if these skills are well reinforced by other adult influencers (and too often they aren’t), the impressionable young mind can’t learn too often that all three categories are important in every area of life.
  • Stay a deep learner yourself! Think regularly about how you can apply new information, gathered outside and inside the classroom, in coaching kids toward becoming their best unique selves.