May 14, 2014 by

Getting Below the Surface

Jim Knight shares some insights on the kind of learning that leads to profound change. Check out his article, “What You Learn When You See Yourself Teach,” in the May 2014 issue of Educational Leadership.

Knight on Deep LearningAre you a learner? My guess is most of us would answer that question with a hearty “yes!” We’re educators, for goodness’ sake. Of course we’re learners.

But what kind of learners are we? Too often, what we consider learning only happens on the surface. We try out a new idea, strategy, app, or experiment, but we don’t really change. We talk, but we don’t really learn.

We can experience learning in two ways: as surface learning or deep learning. When we experience surface learning, we make minor adjustments or try something out for a while, but we don’t take significant steps forward. Deep learning, on the other hand, is learning that changes our assumptions about how we do what we do. Deep learning gets to the core of who we are, and because deep learning leads to profound change, it really does make a difference.

The trouble with deep learning is that it messes with our identity. In their book, Difficult Conversations (Penguin, 1999), Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen define identity as “the story we tell ourselves about who we are and what the future holds for us” (p. 112). It’s a lot to ask to change the story we tell ourselves about who we are. That kind of learning is often painful, and frankly, we’d usually rather avoid it.

Deep learning, however, is one of the best ways to improve. One way to really learn is to get a clear picture of what it looks like when we do what we do. We do this by asking others for feedback and really listening to that feedback. We can also record and watch video of ourselves, something I discuss in my article in the May issue of EL.

Deep learning helps us to be better professionals, parents, friends, and spouses. It’s tough, but it helps us live better lives.

And that kind of growth doesn’t happen if we stay on the surface.