June 2nd, 2012
the past six months, I've been researching "deep learning" and using
a focus on deep learning to present about eportfolios. Deep learning, a
40-year old research thread, has produced models for learning that could have
been produced by an eportfolio researcher.
As I read scholarly articles about learning, I keep thinking that we have had
these ideas, models, and research results about the best ways to learn for a
century, yet they have had minimal impact in higher education up until very
Could it be that creating a new learning design is difficult to do as long as
teachers and students were in a physical classroom? And could it be that
as long as college graduates were succeeding in the world, there was little
motivation to change?
Now, the classroom no longer holds us captive and college graduates are less
successful at finding their way after college. Therefore, we have both an
opportunity and a problem.
The opportunity is to break out of the classroom ritual of rule-bound behavior
that has been associated not with deep learning but with surface
learning. Surface learning -- hearing-memorizing-testing -- is based on
fear of failure according to a number of commentators on deep learning.
Deep learning, instead, is based on a spirit of inquiry and is motivated not by
fear of failure but by interest in learning.
When we in the eportfolio field speak of learning values supported, catalyzed,
and extended by eportfolios, we mention reflection, integrative thinking,
experiential learning, active learning, authentic assessment (assessment for
learning), and other values. We also talk about high-impact practices
(HIPs) based on the desire to help students engage in these varieties of
meta-cognition. The HIPs, when used in conjunction with an eportfolio,
extend opportunities for learning and make the HIPs potentially more
The variety of ways of talking about learning in our field does get us to recognize
the subtle but significant differences in the kinds of learning associated with
eportfolios. Still, it would be helpful to us and to others unfamiliar
with eportfolios to have a term such as "deep learning" that
encompasses all the varieties of learning and practices just listed.
The major contrast between what worked in education before and what is needed
today is the contrast between surface learning and deep learning.
An analogy: when I travel to England, I don't need to engage in deep
learning to help me with travel logistics: I speak the language (sort of), I
can read the signs, and the culture is only moderately different from my home
culture. When we traveled to Istanbul a few years ago, however, I had to
engage in deep learning: I didn't know the language, nor the customs,
didn't know the currency, and the culture in Turkey is significantly different
from my home culture.
Going to England for me is like a college graduate's experience 15 years
ago: going out into the world was relatively easy because knowledge was
not yet into super-warp change mode. The world welcomed college graduates
as it had for a century or more. One could prosper with just surface
learning as preparation.
Going to Turkey for me is like a college graduate's experience today:
going out into the world is hard, the nature of work has changed, job changes
occur frequently, and college grads are expected to produce immediately when
being hired. The world has become less familiar (or more distant from expectations)
for college graduates than it once was. One now needs deep learning
skills and habits as preparation for the world as it has become.
ePortfolio practitioners hope to make the move from teaching to learning and
thereby increase the engagement of students in their own learning. Those
who support high-impact educational practices -- first-year seminars, writing
intensive courses, undergraduate research, common intellectual problems and so
on -- also aim to get students more engaged in their own learning (and to
better understand the social nature of learning).
In each case, I believe, everyone involved is seeking "deep learning"
experiences for their students/learners.
AAEEBL primarily focuses on learning: how can and should learning be
designed given the transformed landscape of knowledge-making? And, how
can and should we use technology to enable these new designs? AAEEBL
emerged from the eportfolio community and is identified with eportfolio
technology as the most promising technology now to promote improvement in
And, to me at least, "deep learning" seems a good term, a solid term,
a well-researched term to identify with eportfolios. I'd be very
interested to hear what other think of this idea: firstname.lastname@example.org.
At AAEEBL2012 in Boston in two weeks, I have a session on Thursday morning the
19th about Deep Learning and ePortfolios. I'd welcome a good discussion
at this session as well.
Best to all