Strategic Model for Learning

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In this overview of the topic, I will start by examining the origins of the deep, surface, and strategic approaches to learning in higher education, and the elements that make these approaches distinct from each other. There has been a significant amount of research on the concept of ‘approaches to learning’ especially in higher education. By utilising this research, I will explore the strengths and ‘usefulness’ of these concepts in understanding how students learn and address the implications arising from them. I will also include insights from my own personal experience of education prior to beginning University according to each approach.

Research over the past 25 years has been directed at understanding the ways in which students go about their learning. The study of deep and surface approaches to learning originated in Sweden, deriving from the empirical research by Marton and Saljo (1976) who were examining student learning. These approaches are identified in learning activities such as problem-solving, lectures, essay-writing, exams etc. (Hodgson, 1984; Hounsell, 1984; Laurilland, 1979, 1984; Ramsden, 1984; in Smith, 2005, p.2). They found there were two qualitatively different ways students approached a task which could be characterised as either 'deep' or 'surface' learning. Marton and Saljo’s research has since been elaborated upon by others such as Entwistle and Ramsden (1983) in the UK, and Biggs (1999) in Australia, and is predominantly used in higher education, remaining highly influential in this context.

These two different approaches taken by students were first observed when Marton and Saljo presented a group of students with the task of reading a text; explaining to them that they will be asked questions abou...

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... and Open University Press

Ramsden, P. (1992) Learning to Teach in Higher Education. UK: Routledge

Sims, E. (2006) Deep Learning – 1: A new shape for schooling? London: Specialist School and Academies Trust

Smith, C. A. (2005) How useful are concepts of learning approaches to thinking about early professional thinking? Contribution to EPL Project mini conference, Early Professional Learning Project, Stirling University, pp.1-1 5. [Online] Available at: (Accessed 15 April 2011)

Zhang, L (2001) Approaches and Thinking Styles in Teaching. The Journal of Psychology, 135(5), pp.547-561. [Online] Available at: (Accessed 15 April 2011)

Zhang, L. and Sternberg, R. J. (2005) ‘The role of individual differences in approaches to learning’, in Jarvis, P. and Parker, S. (eds.) Human Learning: An Holistic Approach, Oxon: Routledge
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