Deep Learning Strategies in Classroom for Better Understanding
Education always progresses on
fluctuating paradigms. Teachers must keep a tab on those fluctuations and be
mindful of paradigm shifts. The latest research findings in education exhort
the teaching community to practice learner-centred
teaching. This shift of focus from the learner to learning is so compelling
just because of the breakthrough revelations that took place in brain sciences.
Evidence-based neuro-scientific facts view effective learning primarily as the
consequence of the right learning strategies rather than of the learner
readiness or motivation itself.
How much of the learner's immense potential to mould his neural connectivity (neuroplasticity) in accordance with the environmental demands has been made use of in the learning process is the focal question. Neuroscience exhorts teachers to look into the brain with which students are learning. It implores the teaching community to implement its findings in classroom settings.
Richard E Mayer, eminent American educational psychologist argues that only when there is explicit change in the content and structure of the knowledge in the brain or the behaviour of the learner; one can say that learning has happened. He identifies three characteristics of this ‘explicit change’ accruing from learning.
1. Duration of change is long-term, it’s relatively permanent
2. Locus of change is in the memory structure or behaviour of the learner
3. The cause of the change is the learning experience.
Swedish educational psychologists Marton and Saljo coined the term Deep learning. They assert with proper evidence that the difference between surface learning and deep learning is so vivid and clear. Learning is said to have occurred deeply:
•If there is a genuine
understanding of the learned material
•If there is long term retention of the learned material
•If the learner can retrieve the learned matter quickly
•If the learner can apply the learned matter or skill to new, unfamiliar situations
•If the learner can integrate concepts, think critically
The connection between learning and expertise or that between learning and genius is still a mystery to many educators. Not all students who learn well become experts in their field. All our students who score high grades do not become creative geniuses. To be frank, our student population scarcely excels in international job platforms. It is high time we aimed for deep learning in our classrooms as it can create experts and geniuses.
Deep learning will not happen in the brains of the students if they read the same material over and over again or by working out the same math problems many times.
The secret formula is to thoroughly engage all the faculties of the student's brain in learning. For this, let the mind of the student confront the same content/concept from a variety of learning contexts. In this sense, the success of teaching lies in creating different contexts for in-depth processing of concepts or principles in the brain of the students. This simple practice impels learner’s brain to immerse in deep learning, which results in the well-structured, flexible and versatile knowledge base.
For example, consider the case of mastering trigonometric identities in Mathematics. Let us go through a sequence of learning/teaching contexts leading to deep learning.
1. The teacher explains/interprets the trigonometric identities.
2. Demonstrate their use in solving the problems.
3. The teacher walks the students through step by step process of problem-solving (classroom practice).
4. The teacher assigns some problems as homework (self-practice).
5. The teacher asks one student or a group of students to use trigonometric identities in finding the length and width of the classroom (application).
6. The teacher asks a student to teach the identity and its application to another student who was not present during the session (communication).
7. The teacher arranges a social media platform for collecting similar problems from the internet (collaborate).
8. The teacher asks a group of students to identify areas in other subjects where these identities have been applied (identification, recognition).
9. The teacher asks a student who is good in literature to create a poem using trigonometric identities (creativity).
10. The teacher conducts a classroom test and lets the students exchange their answer sheets and analyze the errors. In error analysis, each student is asked not only to detect the errors in the paper of his classmate but write down the reasons that might have led to it…(lack of practice, carelessness, lack of understanding of the concept, lack of knowledge in basic operations, etc), and suggest a remedy for it(analysis).
11. Assign them short projects to create problems from daily life situations in which trigonometry can be applied for finding a solution (project-based/research).
12. Make a survey among students which approach in learning helped them most (re-reading, practicing, frequent retrieval, elaboration) in fixing the content in their long-term memory (meta-cognition).
Repeated exposure to the learned matter stabilizes the changes that occurred in the brain (in the form of new neural connections) during previous learning. The strength of neural networks in student’s knowledge structure steadily increases due to repetition. In-depth mastery and enduring understanding of the concept/skill accrues from it. The only condition is, the repeated exposure must be as diverse as possible.
All the sensual and mental faculties of the student must actively participate in repeated exposure or rehearsal. To be precise, the executive functions (e.g. planning, rationalizing drawing conclusion, critical thinking, analyzing, visualizing, integrating etc) of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) which is the thinking brain, must be poked, stimulated, titillated by the concept or the skill to be mastered. For this, teachers can design a variety of learning situations in advance as listed above.
Moreover, there are certain areas where deep learning is indispensable. Such areas are innumerable in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects. For instance, superficial learning of a topic in math, physics or chemistry hinders the smooth learning of subsequent topics. In other words, surface learning of a concept cripples any later attempt for in-depth learning (of some other concept)--especially in subjects like maths as “all math require earlier math,” according to Murray Bourne. The foundation matters a lot when one aspires for mastery or expertise in any area of learning.
We know that deep learning strategies are difficult to implement in a culture where rote learning is promoted and the performance in the exam is the sole (outdated) criteria for ensuring whether the learning is happening. We need to come out of this unproductive performance-oriented learning culture.
Varieties of learning experiences students undergo during deep learning not only ensure content mastery and solid knowledge structures but enhance students’ personal development. Deep learning strategies stimulate as well as sustain learner’s curiosity, motivation, and ensure their social skill development. Because its ways incorporate sharing, critical thinking, problem-solving, analytical thinking, collaborating, seeking and what not? These are the qualities the present-day job market is looking for in prospective employees. These are the qualities a nation needs in its citizens for its forward movement along the development trajectory. So, let us shift our focus to the subtle processes involved in learning in order to deepen it.