The Distinction Between Deep, Surface And Strategic Approaches To Learning

2647 words - 11 pages

In this research of the topic, I will firstly examine the ‘characteristics’ of students who take deep, surface or strategic approaches to learning in higher education, and explore how these approaches are distinct from each other using literature from notable authors researching the topic of ‘approaches to learning’ mainly in higher education. Secondly, I will consider the ‘usefulness’ of these concepts in understanding how students learn and address any strengths; and implications or debate arising from them. I will also include my own learning experience from writing this assignment, along with my own personal experience from education prior to beginning University.
Research over the past 25 years has been directed at understanding the ways in which students go about their learning. The study of student’s ‘deep and surface approaches to learning’ originated in Sweden, and derived from the empirical research by Marton and Saljo (1976) when they were researching student learning. These approaches are identified in learning activities such as problem-solving, lectures, essay-writing, exams etc. (Hodgson, 1984; Hounsell, 1984; Laurilland, 1979, 1984; Ramsden, 1984; in Smith, 2005, p.2). They found there were two qualitatively different ways students approached a task which lead to either deep or surface learning. These two different approaches taken by students were first observed when Marton and Saljo presented a group of students with the task of reading a text; explaining to them that they will be asked questions about it later. They found that the characteristics of the students and their intentions behind their approach were distinctly different to one another according to the approach they took. The first group became anxious and approached the text by concentrating on memorising quotes, dates, names, facts and details, rather than taking in the content of the text and the argument the author was trying to convey, these students studied the text by learning in anticipation of the questions they may be asked. These students were identified as adopting a ‘surface’ approach as they ‘skated along the surface of the text’ (Biggs, 1999). Whereas the second group were interested in understanding the content of the text; taking in the bigger picture and examining the facts and details, making it more likely for them to grasp the authors meaning. These students were recognised as using a ‘deep’ approach.
Marton and Saljo’s research has since been elaborated by others such as Entwistle and Ramsden (1983), and Biggs (1999) in the UK and Australia, and is currently predominantly used in higher education and remains highly influential in this context. Through independent work by Biggs (1979) and Ramsden and Entwistle (1981: in Zhang and Sternberg, 2005) a third approach was identified, this was first termed ‘achieving’, but later changed to ‘strategic’. The strategic approach was included, as an important key element was missing in the context used in...

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