XIV: Education Classification Part 1

Thanks to the ridiculous number hours I spend in class, I’m doing a two-part miniseries on how and why people learn.

Today is all about the how (and a smidgen about the why, but mostly the why is for tomorrow so we’re just gonna focus on the how).

According to Ken Bain, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at the University of the District of Columbia, there are three basic types of learners: surface learners, strategic learners, and deep learners.

Most people tend to be a combination of the three, using different styles of learning depending on the subject and their own personal interests.

Surface learners don’t actually learn anything, not in any real sense. They focus on passing classes and exams. If a surface learner is assigned a selection of text to read, they will read it and attempt to anticipate any questions they may be asked about the text later. They attempt to memorize as much data as possible. However, they do not retain this information. They memorize facts and dates long enough to spit them out on a test, and then they let all that now-unneeded information slip away. A surface learner will get an A on test, but a week later, they would not be able to answer those same questions.

Pop quizzes and cumulative exams are a surface learner’s worst nightmares.

The second kind of learner is a strategic learner. They learn, but they don’t learn the right stuff. Instead of focusing on absorbing information, they try to figure out what a teacher wants from them and what they need to do in order to pass. They tend to get excellent grades, but they rarely retain anything useful. To an observer, a strategic learner may appear extremely bright or even brilliant, but they tend to be uncreative and fear stepping outside the box. They are oriented toward getting honors and awards, not actually learning anything.

The last type is the deep learner. If a person could be a deep learner all the time, they would be the single smartest person on the planet. They would genuinely know and have a deep mastery of pretty much everything they ever learned. If you haven’t already guessed, deep learners are focused on actually learning and retaining information. They don’t just want to pass, they want to really know it. They even tend to seek out new learning for the sheer enjoyment of it. They want to understand how and why things are the way they are. They’re creative, curious, and analytical.

You know that kid who sits front and center and knows absolutely everything all the time? That nerdy kid who you simultaneously hate and envy because school is unfairly easy for them? That’s the deep learner.

You know how they say don’t tease the nerds, because you might end up working for them?

They’re totally right.


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