Modes of learning

What is learning and how leaners approach the content they are required to cover in a given course? do they have much influence on how they learn or is learning going to always be continuous and subliminal?

Learning can include a quantitative increase in knowledge and the ability to retain and reproduce it (memorizing). Also, gaining skills is learning. Moreover, making sense of abstract notions and acquiring an understanding, or a different interpretation, of reality is another type of learning. gaining the ability to analyze, infer and integrate data and identify causality is also part of learning. Finally, learning these elements occur with different learning approaches, or modes. But these modes, described below, are not mutually exclusive.

When learning involves only memorizing and reproducing content, it is usually called surface learning. But learning can also be deep, and strategic. These are modes, or approaches, used by different learners to deal with course material. Therefore, as educators, it is a wise idea to understand these modes and what influence them. For example, are we using exams that motivate students to be surface leaners, that is, memorize isolated facts (without really understanding them) to answer multi-choice questions and get the grades they desire, or are we using methods to motivate students toward deep learning, or should we be aiming toward a balanced approach?

Surface Learning 

_235912_hhhhhhhIf a learner aims to get the course out of the way with minimum effort, that is, learning only to meet course requirements, then surface learning prevails. Here, the learner focuses on memorizing only what is relevant to the topic and the course, and work to only repeat it in the exam without trying to comprehend any connections with other elements, facts or theories. Learners that engage in surface learning can be good at listing points and writing details directly from the course materials in their exams, but fail to discuss, make connections and  synthesize an overall context to the work.

Deep Learning 

deep-learning-quora-e1527433126791.pngWhen the learner feels the need to engage meaningfully, that is comprehend the meaning behind the course content, and therefore use his/her cognitive abilities during the learning of the course, deep learning can occur. The learner will make a real effort to understand the connections and the bigger picture of the course content. This will motivate the learner to make a real effort to acquire the required background information and knowledge to make the connections and understand the overall picture. Deep learning, if it occurs, make the learner integrate course contents with past knowledge, and experiences and connect its concepts. Also, deep learning  can allow the learner to critically think about the topic and examine its rationale.  Another characteristic of deep learning includes the desire of the learner to explore causalities, correlations and the relationships between evidence and conclusion.

Strategic Learning

businessman playing chess game selective focusLeaners that work hard to figure out the lecturers’ preferences and aim to understand the knowledge required to demonstrate mastery of the course content by balancing surface and deep learning to achieve the highest grades, are called strategic learners.


It could be argued that surface learning is required for deep learning and strategic learning to occur. That is, there is a place for all three modes of learning in any good learning process. Moreover, strategic leaning, can be described as the mode that allow the students to develop real-life skills during their education years, because real-life requires of us continuous strategic learning.   

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