I learn because I have to

“There is another” (Yoda, a long time ago)

There is surface learning (boo), deep learning (hurrah) and there is strategic learning. Strategic learning involves doing whatever is necessary to achieve your learning goals, which sounds a lot like surface learning (boo). However, there is a difference.

Strategic learners will adopt the behaviour of the deep learner (hurrah) if those methods prove effective in achieving whatever it is they want to achieve. As such the motivation for learning is not intrinsic, but merely a symptom of the design of the course (or, in particular the assessment of the course). Let me give you an illustration.

If you are learning about the English history your assessment could take a number of forms. Here are two:

1. Harold Godwinson fought the Battle of Hastings in:

  • a) 1065
  • b ) 1066
  • c) 1076
  • d) pyjamas

2. Examine the case for each of the claimants of the English throne in 1065, and then evaluate the extent to which the arguments parallel those preceding the coronation of William III in 1688.

In one example the strategic learner would merely have to learn a number of facts and figures. In the other the strategic learner would have to demonstrate an understanding of the context around the battle for the English throne in 1065-66, and then apply that knowledge to another example. They would have examine and evaluate rather than rinse and repeat.

However, there is a problem with this idea. What is a surface learner (boo) to do with the second question? Would they continue to memorise things and risk failure or would they too become strategic learners? Would a deep learner (hurrah) when faced with question 1 continue to spend time researching, reflecting, reviewing and evaluating stuff if they received no (external) reward for doing so?

For me, I’m not wholly convinced by the notion of a strategic learner. From what I’ve read, there doesn’t appear to be a justification for it as concept distinct from surface (boo) and deep (hurrah) learning, particularly as one’s preference for one or the other¬† is contextual (i.e. depending on other stuff) rather than fixed (i.e. owing to a particularly personality type or ‘learning style).

Strategic learning, I bite my thumb at thee.


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