Experiencing Deep Learning

What is deep learning? It is pretty much what most educators already believe about education. Will Richardson, education critic and promoter of “modern learning,” usually defines it as something close to a focus on student agency, choice, and authenticity.
 One of the rallying cries of those of us who think school needs to be remade/transformed/revolutionized/etc is that what school needs to do first is focus on defining what we believe learning means.

[A] greater focus on the antecedents to deep learning, not the consequents to sound teaching.

To me this means a greater focus on the antecedents to deep learning, not the consequents to sound teaching. More fuzzy space for student innovating, creating, exploring; less directed mandates about teachers aligning standards and delivering curriculum.
 However, in school, what we believe about learning and what type of learning is designed are usually two very different things.
 I believe in the power of reflection. I believe it is one of the antecedents to deep learning. But how is it designed?
 I am assuming the John Dewey quote has been widely seen by most educators at one point or another. I know I have seen in multiple times. But when I saw it the other day (again) on Twitter it sparked an internal dialogue: if I believe this, what does it mean in practice? How is it designed?
 I think the design might look something like this:

Knowledge artifacts are by design shareable

Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis, in their New Learning research, talk quite extensively about actively creating knowledge, not passively receiving knowledge. A knowledge artifact is just this: a real, authentic product of active knowledge making; a narrative about what was learned.

Shareable knowledge is by design open to feedback

Giving feedback has long been recognized as an essential component of teaching and learning. Feedback, according to John Hattie, “is conceptualized as information provided by an agent (e.g., teacher, peer, book, parent, self, experience) regarding aspects of one’s performance or understanding” (2007, p. 81).

Again, feedback can be given locally, e.g. with post-its on butcher paper, and/or digitally, e.g. with Google Doc comments).

Feedback by design creates meaningful spaces for reflection

Most educators would agree that reflection is a necessary component of learning, and maybe, as John Dewey argues, of thinking itself. Reflection, to Dewey:

involves not simply a sequence of ideas, but consequence — a consecutive ordering in such a way that each determines the next as its proper outcome, while each in turn leans back on its predecessors. The successive portions of the reflective thought grow out of one another and support one another; they do not come and go in a medley. Each phase is a step from something to something — technically speaking, it is a term of thought. Each term leaves a deposit which is utilized in the next term. The stream or flow becomes a train, chain, or thread.

Reflection comes in many forms, from making a small change to your prototype based on a peer suggestion, to writing a reflective blog post after the completion of a project.

Reflection by design creates deep learning.

Reflection is not the only antecedent to deep learning. In fact, we need to focus much more of our efforts to figuring out what these antecedents are, instead of trying to figure out how to measure the consequents of sound teaching. But it is a powerful one. And it does not happen by chance. We should focus on designing more opportunities for it.

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the bitterest. Confucius


  • Cope, Bill and Kalantzis, Mary. New Learning. Link.
  • Dewey, John. How We Think. 1933
  • Di Estephano, et al. Learning By Thinking. Link.
  • Hattie, John, et al. The Power of Feedback. Link.
  • Popova, Maria. How We Think: John Dewey on the Art of Reflection. Link.
  • Richardson, Will. The Surprising Truth About Learning in Schools. Link.
  • Tolisano, Silvia. Reflection in the Learning Process, Not As An Add On. Link.

Originally published at blog.joekoss.me on June 1, 2016.

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