Students’ approach to learning describes what they do when they learn and why. The basic distinction is between a deep approach to learning, where students are aiming towards understanding, and a surface approach to learning, where they are aiming to reproduce material in a test or exam, rather than actually understanding it.
The same learner can adopt a deep approach in one context, and a surface approach in another. The difference in approach depends on the characteristics of the context, and the learners’ interpretation of it. In other words, the learner’s approach is not fixed. For example, students’ perception of a time-pressured environment can cause them to rush and adopt a surface approach for this particular course.
The chart below describes student factors that can encourage a Deep or Surface Approach to learning (from Biggs, 1999; Entwistle, 1998; and Ramsden, 1992).
How does the deep/surface model of approaches to learning resonate with your experiences as a learner and your observations of student learning in your role as a TA/instructor? What can you do to help your students decrease their focus on memorization and to encourage them to take a deeper approach to learning?