The Deep Approach to Learning

The Deep Approach to Learning. Achieving a college degree can provide valuable intrinsic rewards such as being more educated and enlightened in learning about the physical universe and metaphysical concepts, and it can provide extrinsic rewards, i.e. finding a satisfying career and all the benefits there entailed.

These rewards are not mutually exclusive, and the most rewarding education satisfies both, achieving what the ancient Greeks called eudaimonia, which means reaching a contented state of happiness. Of course there is the important question of choosing the right degree plan.

In choosing your degree plan, keep a pragmatic approach. Ask yourself: will this subject interest me to the point that I will actually engage the material? It goes without saying that true interest will generate better academic performance than disinterest. Decide which subjects interest you, provoke your attention and stimulate your mind.

It’s perfectly fine if no subject peaks your interest or lights a spark. Decide which subject you like the most out of the options. There are particulars and nuances that can emerge from a discipline that can become interesting and enjoyable once you are immersed in it.

New research in the book What the Best College Students Do, by professor Ken Bain, provost and vice president for academic affairs of the University of the District of Columbia, suggests that a student’s genuine interest in a subject will produce a more successful student. This seems rather obvious.

The findings, which are based on a study of thirty-five college graduates who went on to lead very successful and productive careers, show that the best college students take an approach to their studies that Bain refers to as a “Deep Approach to Learning”, in which students are engaging and learning the material motivated by sincere interest and a desire to truly know. These are intrinsic motivating factors.

Intrinsic motivating factors for learning are more conducive to college success than extrinsic motivating factors (such as high grades, academic awards or accolades).

Stephen ColbertProfessor Bain groups the way college students approach their college career into three broad categories: Surface Approach, Strategic Approach, and Deep Approach.

The Surface Approach learners are primarily interested in passing their courses; the Strategic Approach learners are primarily interested in getting the highest grades, and not necessarily learning the material; the Deep Approach learners are primarily interested in actually learning the material and not necessarily getting high grades.

Those who practice the Deep Approach have been shown in the research to go on and lead the most successful careers after college. Among the graduates that Dr. Bain interviewed was comedian and television personality Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, who commented that “You have to embrace the bomb”, meaning, don’t let failure reshape who you are, but rather embrace your mistakes.

The problem with Strategic Approach learners, according to Bain, besides not learning the material as thoroughly as Deep Approach learners, is that they aren’t as likely to take risks or explore new subjects, they’re not likely to learn conceptually and more likely to learn procedurally, and since they’re not likely to learn conceptually they’re not likely to become “adaptive experts”, which is the ability to adapt to different working environments.

Find a subject that interests you, and go headlong into it. Employers will likely not ask you about any grades that you made in any particular course, but they may very likely ask you about the actual content of what you were supposed to have learned in your degree. Learn the material in the course of your study because you want to know it, and take classes that genuinely interest you. Your success in college and beyond could depend on it.


The Deep Approach to Learning