Sunday, May 18, 2014

Deep, strategic and surface learning

the #ocTEL course this week has been thinking about approaches to learning, and the differences between deep, strategic and surface learning , which have been defined as:

Defining features of approaches to learning

Deep Approach
Intention — to understand ideas for yourself
Relating ideas to previous knowledge and experience
Looking for patterns and underlying principles
Checking evidence and relating it to conclusions
Examining logic and argument cautiously and critically
Becoming actively interested in the course content
Surface Approach
Intention — to cope with course requirements
Studying without reflecting on either purpose or strategy
Treating the course as unrelated bits of knowledge
Memorising facts and procedures routinely
Finding difficulty in making sense of new ideas presented
Feeling undue pressure and worry about work

Strategic Approach
Intention — to achieve the highest possible grades
Putting consistent effort into studying
Finding the right conditions and materials for studying
Managing time and effort effectively
Being alert to assessment requirements and criteria
Gearing work to the perceived preferences of lecturers


Source: Marton, F., Hounsell, D. and Entwistle, N., (eds.) The Experience of Learning: Implications for teaching and studying in higher education. 3rd (Internet) edition. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh.

There has been much discussion as to whether these are a continuum, and which forms are better than others (better for what one might well ask).  I want to start at the other end, and ask why someone might choose to learn something, and in that case what is the appropriate approach, as it at least helped to clarify my thinking; so in no particular order:
  • To solve an immediate problem - where the learner is trying to achieve something, anything, and they have a particular problem that they need to solve they may take a purely surface approach and say I want to solve this problem, what do I need to do? I can go back and look at this in more detail later if I want to.  Others may take a deeper approach and look at the issue in a more generic way and use it as an opportunity not just to address the immediate problem but to learn something that will be generally applicable in other situations.  I know people who do each of these, and people who will do both depending on their interest in the problem and the urgency of producing a solution.  I cannot see how a strategic approach might be relevant here, but would love some examples.
  • To pass an exam - The focus here is similar to that of solving an immediate problem, in that it is getting a short term problem fixed.  However, the immediacy is not as great (and the stakes may be high).  People do use all three approaches depending on all sorts of things.  For instance, are they interested in the subject, or is this and exam that they "just" need to pass and can then forget all about; if that is the case they may well take a surface or strategic approach.  Is this a subject where the learner knows that they will continue to use what they have learnt after the exam? In that case strategic or deep learning might be appropriate.  Is this a subject in which they have a real interest?  In that case deep learning might be appropriate for some of it, whilst strategic or surface learning may be appropriate for other parts.  I studied Zoology as my undergraduate degree topic, and took a deep approach to much of the course, but there were some parts that frankly bored me (anatomy and taxonomy in particular), so I studied the principles but took a very surface approach to the actual details (my taxonomy is little better than dem dry bones, and I used to invent beetles when I needed examples in taxonomy).
  • To learn something out of curiosity / for fun - One might think that here people would always chose deep learning, but that would not be true. People may learn songs without worrying too much (or even at all) about either the deeper meanings of the lyrics or anything beyond the tune of the song, or learn a recipe without thinking about the culinary principles that might be involved (although maybe Heston Blumenthal has changed that for some people?).  Other people will take a deep approach and actively engage with the topic and consider the principles etc.  I am not sure how relevant strategic learning can be here, as there is no external driver to  be strategic about.
  • personal or professional development - I guess here I am not thinking of courses on which one is sent (which  would be similar to pass an exam) so much as things one may chose to do in order to enhance ones career, but are self-motivated and (probably) not examined.  I would suggest that this is somewhere between passing an exam and learning for fun, and that therefore the approaches might be similar.
What other motivations are there for learning? what might be the approaches used? and what research has there been into this way of looking at the issue?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Reflections on #ocTEL week on Concepts and strategies for Learning Technology and their relationship to CMALT

There has been much interesting discussion again this week, and a lot of issues raised and thoughtful, reflective comments posted by so many people that it has been a joy to participate, and occasionally to respond.  The focus of most of the comments and postings that I have read has been strongly focused on the pedagogy.  I think that the opening question about how one’s own practice relates to the quadrant (

set a good tone, and some people even posted some of their practice and published quadrants, one that I looked at by Maha Bali (‏@Bali_Maha) lists some of her practice

There are two areas of CMALT that the work that people have done relate to:
  • 1a) An understanding of the constraints and benefits of different technologies
  • 2a) An understanding of teaching, learning and/or assessment processes

Clearly there is some overlap between these sections anyhow, but also, the way in which people have approached this week’s work has had different emphases, some people taking a more technological starting point and others a more pedagogic one.  Note, that neither of these are better, they reflect different ways of thinking, different interests and different starting points.
There has been discussion of strategies for learning and teaching (or was that teaching and learning) and that has covered both institutional and personal strategies, and the relationship between them, and sometimes the dissonance that can be created when personal belief systems and institutional structures are at odds.
There has also been discussion of learning theories and how practice relates to (preferred) learning theories.
All this has been excellent, and the spirit in which it has been undertaken has been that of mutual support and cooperation, which supports the principles as well.  In case you have forgotten the principles are:
  1. A commitment to exploring and understanding the interplay between technology and learning.
  2. A commitment to keep up to date with new technologies.
  3. An empathy with and willingness to learn from colleagues from different backgrounds and specialisms.
  4. A commitment to communicate and disseminate effective practice. 

I would say that all those participating in the MOOC (at least all that I have seen) are amply demonstrating all four of the principles, and I think that is what has made membership of the MOOC such a pleasure.

What has been shown is people’s deep engagement and enthusiasm for thinking about teaching and learning and the processes involved.  All of this would come across very well in CMALT applications as it shows: 
  • Knowledge (experiential knowledge from people’s practice, engagement with the theory and how it supports their practice).
  • A willingness to learn and to share experience, good practice and ideas.
  • A keen ability to reflect on practice, and to think about how that reflection will impact on future practice.

All this is exactly what we are looking for when we are assessing CMALT applications.

The one thing that has sometimes been missing (because this is not CMALT applications, but a public discussion) is the supporting evidence.  I would not expect to find it here.  Often this material is sensitive, and ocTEL is not about proving what you have done, but learning from what you, and your colleagues, have done and are doing.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Using the ocTEL MOOC to support learning

I have been following some of the discussions that have been happening this week, and really enjoying the quality of much of it and the level of engagement that so many of you are showing (and I hope that I am demonstrating too).  One of the things that I have been thinking about is how this relates to undertaking a CMALT (Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology) application, and I think that it demonstrates the types of thing that we are looking for in your application. 
When assessing applications we are looking for three things relating to each of the headings.  These are description of what you have done, evidence that you did it and reflection on what you learnt from doing it.  I want to focus on reflection here for two reasons.  Firstly, applicants often have the greatest difficulty with reflection (that is we often have to ask applicants to do more reflection before we can accept the applications) and secondly the topic this week has been so general that it is harder to relate to most of the specific sections of the application.
I have seen considerable levels of reflection in some of the postings where people have commented not just on what they have done (description), but also why it worked (or didn’t) what might have made it work better and what they learnt from doing it.  This is exactly what we are looking for in applications, and is really helpful for other participants in ocTEL.  While CP Scott may have said “"comment is free, but facts are sacred” it is often the comment that is more useful for other people. This, for instance, is why case studies are such a popular way of understanding the possibilities of learning technology (or anything else for that matter).  While it may be true that facts are sacred and comment is free (though most facts are contested anyway, and much comment wouldn’t be worth paying for) it is when they are combined in a thoughtful way that the greatest understanding is developed both by the writer, and the reader.  When you are writing posts, or reading posts (whether blogs or in the forum or anywhere else) think about what is description, what is the evidence supporting it and what reflection there is.  Try to include some reflection in all your postings, it will really help to further your own understanding, and yes, I know I have not included reflection in all my postings, so I will try harder for the rest of ocTEL to include some reflection in my postings.
One of the other areas that we are looking for in CMALT applications is communications both as something to write about specifically in section 3 and because it relates to two of the principles behind CMALT:
·       An empathy with and willingness to learn from colleagues from different backgrounds and specialisms.
·       A commitment to communicate and disseminate effective practice.
Even vicarious learning supports the first of these two, whilst so many of you have been willing to comment on postings by others shows a commitment to communicate and disseminate effective practice.  Indeed, particiaption in the MOOC could be used as evidence in the communications section.
The other two principles are:
·       A commitment to exploring and understanding the interplay between technology and learning.
·       A commitment to keep up to date with new technologies
And here again there has been the start of discussions in these areas, which I am sure you will be pursuing as the ocTEL continues through the other weeks on topics relating to learning and technology.
What is very clear to me is that many of you already have the knowledge and experience to gain CMALT recognition, and that you can use ocTEL both to increase your understanding of learning technology and learning  and to reflect on what you already know and do.  That makes an ideal preparation for completing your CMALT application, so I hope to see a flood of applications at the end of June or start of July.

Good luck and enjoy ocTEL.