Deep learners become changed people.
When I was young, my family built a home on a hill just north of town. As such, we were not on the city water or other utilities at that time. So for water, we had to drill.
Granted, I was only six at the time, so I didn’t understand the nuances of what it took to drill a well. I was fascinated with watching the process of everything it took to put this house together and to make it work. And I recall the truck that showed up do drill the well, this big imposing, exhaust-spewing rusted out monster of a semi truck.
And bit by bit, the men operating the drill began the work, stopped, added pipes… On and on and on this went. For a couple of days.
Now, back then, adults were much more open to kids watching and getting up close with projects like this, and so they let me comb and sift through the material as it came to the surface to see what was inside. They also paused what they were doing from time to time to show me different objects the drill pushed back up. Black top soil. Bits of worms. Roots. Clay. Rocks. A porridge of ground limestone.
Until finally, they hit water. Foamy and churning with sediment.
What I learned from watching this is that the more focused you are on that work, the more efficient you are in the operation. And there’s a good chance you are going to get messy.
But I also learned that the deeper the dig, the slower it goes.
The same is true of learning: the deeper the learning, the longer it takes to get there.
So what does deep learning look like?
The process, if illustrated, looks less like a learning pyramid, and more like a staircase. And the goal of designing deep learning experiences is really to establish the context of the learning, such as the scenario, the setting, the situation.
In 1997, Dr. Norman Webb presented this "Depth of Knowledge" contextual learning framework that deviated somewhat from the conceptual taxonomy that Bloom and company developed between the late 1940s and mid 60s. Webb’s model moves the learner back and forth through four levels ranging from the more simple to the progressive.
Level 1: The learner acquires knowledge through recollection or procedure.
Level 2: The learner applies this knowledge using basic reasoning skills and concepts.
Level 3: The learner analyzes the outcome using planning and complex reasoning.
Level 4: The learner augments their learning, extending their thinking to see how it might work in the real world.
Something to consider with depth of learning, particularly with adult learners, is that as we age we don’t learn as quickly, so time does become a factor. But that’s okay, because the beautiful tradeoff to that time-in-learning is that our ability and willingness to dive deeper starts to go way up over time. The depth of learning increases exponentially as we age.
When deep learning takes place, when the learner is augmenting the content or experience for application to fit their social role or responsibility, then some very human behaviors and expressions begin to present themselves.
The deep learner often displays a fascination with the content or activities. They become inspired, and if your work or classroom culture is supportive they’ll share that inspired learning with others in the group. They’ll have a profound clarity about much of the learning, determining if and how it’s to be applied and the cost in doing so. But the biggest tell of all (again, if your culture allows it) is that their curiosity will surface and they’ll begin to ask better questions and to voice new ideas. And that works its way into the dynamics of the team’s culture.
And what manager wouldn’t want to work with a team that has problem-solving as its default? That finds new markets? That reduces waste? That is made up of individuals who support and challenge one another to be at their best?
How much is that person worth to your team?
Deep learners become changed people. They become better versions of themselves. They acquire and apply and analyze and augment their learning through a deeper experience.
They dig until they hit something that is life giving.