Deep Learning

What do today’s students really need to learn in order to succeed, not only in the classroom but also later on in college, careers, and as engaged citizens?

Today, American education policy is clear that we need to focus on our students’ development of deep content knowledge and an ability to apply their knowledge and skills to tasks and situations inside and outside of school. The Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards clearly reflect this dual focus on academic learning and real-world application.

The combination of (1) a deep understanding of core academic content, (2) the ability to apply that understanding to novel problems and situations, and (3) the development of a range of competencies, including soft skills is called deep learning. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation—a leader in the national initiative to promote deep learning in schools—has defined deep learning as “a set of competencies students must master in order to develop a keen understanding of academic content and apply their knowledge to problems in the classroom and on the job.”   

There are six dimensions of deep learning:

  1. Mastery of core academic content
  2. Critical thinking and problem-solving
  3. Effective communication
  4. Ability to work collaboratively
  5. Learning how to learn (self-directed learning)
  6. Academic mindsets
There are a variety of instructional and assessment methods that support the dimensions of deeper learning.  It is critical that we use these methods in our teaching and learning.  These methods engage students and allow them to think critically and solve complex problems; work collaboratively; communicate effectively; incorporate feedback; and develop the academic mindsets necessary to direct their own learning and master core academic content. These different approaches foster deeper learning outcomes that empower students and develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities they will need for college, a career, and life.

Although these instructional approaches engage students in different ways, all of them incorporate rigorous content grounded in state academic standards.  It is imperative that we explore examples of different instructional approaches that lead to deep learning outcomes for students.  Some of the approaches are:

  1. Project-based learning
  2. Work-based learning
  3. Blended learning
  4. Inquiry-based learning
  5. Connected learning
  6. Personalized learning

Educators can assess deep learning outcomes using these instructional approaches through a variety of assessment strategies that go beyond multiple choice, essays, and short term exams.  The following are some assessment strategies that can be considered:

  1. Performance assessments
  2. Portfolio assessments
  3. Project based learning assessments
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