What is learning?
Learning is a way of interacting with the world. As we learn, our conceptions of phenomena change, and we see the world in a different way. The acquisition of information in itself does not bring about such a change, but the way we structure that information and think with it does. Thus, education is about conceptual change, not just the acquisition of information.
What is deep learning?
Deep learning is an approach and an attitude to learning, where the learner uses higher-order cognitive skills such as the ability to analyse, synthesize, solve problems, and thinks meta-cognitively in order to construct long-term understanding. It involves the critical analysis of new ideas, linking them to already known concepts, and principles so that this understanding can be used for problem solving in new, unfamiliar contexts. Deep learning entails a sustained, substantial, and positive influence on the way students act, think, or feel.
Deep learning promotes understanding and application for life. Deep learners reflect on the personal significance of what they are learning. They are autonomous –they virtually teach themselves. But they are also collaborative learners, with high meta-cognitive and learning skills.
What is surface learning?
In contrast, surface learning is the tacit acceptance of information and memorization as isolated and unlinked facts. It leads to superficial retention of material for examinations and does not promote understanding or long-term retention of knowledge and information.
A clear overview is available at teaching and learning website.
The features of Deep and Surface approaches can be summarised thus:
Focus is on “what is signified” Focus is on the “signs” (or on the learning
as a signifier of something else)
Relates previous knowledge to new knowledge Focus on unrelated parts of the task
Relates knowledge from different courses Information for assessment is simply memorised
Relates theoretical ideas to everyday experience Facts and concepts are associated unreflectively
Relates and distinguishes evidence and argument Principles are not distinguished from examples
Organises and structures content into coherent whole Task is treated as an external imposition
Emphasis is internal, from within the student Emphasis is external, from demands of assessment