Deep Learning in Virtual Environments

Dr. Lamont Moore
Dr. Lamont Moore
Director of Testing, Accountability, Gifted Education, and Title III; Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, Gardner-Webb University, NC
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What is Deep Learning?

Deep learning is what many educators also describe as rigorous learning. While many dictionaries traditionally define the term rigor as being rigid, inflexible or unyielding, educators define rigor as assignments that encourage students to think critically, creatively, and more flexibly. They describe rigorous learning environments as those that are not intended to be harsh, rigid, or overly prescriptive.

In contrast, rigorous learning environments are learning environments that are stimulating, engaging, and supportive for students. In essence, deep or rigorous learning is less about how difficult a class is or how hard a student has to work to pass. It is more about students knowing how to demonstrate higher-order thinking, as well as how to apply their acquired knowledge at high levels and within various contexts.

Benefits of Deep Learning for Virtual Learning

The benefits of deep learning are vast. However it is important to note that the benefits are the same in face-to-face instruction as they are in virtual learning situations. It is imperative that educators ensure that student experiences in virtual learning are comparable to face-to-face settings as opposed to providing a “sit and get” virtual learning environment. Here are a few benefits to deep learning in both virtual and face-to-face learning.

Creates High Expectations

When educators create learning environments that require critical thinking across various contexts, it raises the bar regarding what constitutes as true learning. It also sets the standard for what acceptable learner behavior should look like during learning sessions. This not only builds self-esteem and confidence in students, it also promotes high academic achievement.

Builds Persistence

Student persistence is often described as grit in educational settings. This is when perseverance meets passion in the classroom. Educators who create environments that build student persistence make a tremendous impact on average students, students who have learning disabilities, as well as students who are identified as gifted and talented. All students benefit greatly from strengthening their ability to be persistent. However, there is a thin line between challenging students and causing them to reach a point of frustration, which causes them to shut down. Educators must be mindful of their students’ needs and be conscious of the academic breaking points for each student.

Makes Students Competitive

As we continue to work to make sure that our students are college and career ready, we have been afforded meaningful dialogue and creating taskforces with leaders in business and higher education. Leaders in business and higher education are looking for students who have great problem-solving skills. Students who are engaged in deep learning on a regular basis in K-12 education are much more successful in college and in their careers.

We have also witnessed the way technology has transformed our economy and our world. Because of the advancement of technology, many of the entry-level or low-skill jobs are being done via technology. This means that students who are entering the workforce with only a low-level skill ability will not find many entry-level jobs available. In order to remain competitive, our students must be able to enter the workforce with the competence to perform on higher-ability jobs. Engaging these students in deep learning ensures that they remain competitive.

Deep Learning Strategies to Try

Require Connection and Application

In order for students to authentically engage in deep learning, they must be required to connect with the content they are learning and apply it to other contexts. This causes the students to experience a transfer of understanding from the knowledge level to the application level.

Initially this will mean that the educator must intentionally plan tasks that will necessitate students to connect to content and apply what they know in new or unfamiliar contexts. Educators must also model this practice to students during instruction until they see the students demonstrating automaticity. Ideally this transfer of understanding should be self-initiated by the student.

Integrate Subject-Area Content and Multiple Perspectives

Traditionally instruction has been approached in a subject-based manner that allowed the students to clearly see the differences between content areas. However, in today’s workforce, it is essential that you understand how one content area is interconnected with other content areas.

To prepare students to view content in this way, educators should integrate deep learning tasks that provide students with opportunities to synthesize data, concepts, and theories from multiple sources or perspectives. This may include various religious ideas, scientific viewpoints, literary perspectives, or other schools of thought. Students need to know how these perspectives compare and contrast. They also need to know how various content areas are interconnected.

Utilize Project-Based Learning

Students are immediately required to think deeply when they are immersed in design thinking. It is this type of thinking that drives project-based learning. Project-based learning allows students to think and work as experts in the field in order to solve a problem or meet a need. This type of learning also provides an opportunity for educators to make learning relevant for the students.

Create Tasks with Multiple Steps

Providing students with multiple steps during instruction may seem to be something that is easily implemented. However, educators must be aware that all tasks that involve multiple steps are not true examples of deep learning. It is essential that the tasks are not medial tasks (such as read the book, complete the worksheet, share with your group) but tasks that increase in rigor. Educators should use Bloom’s Taxonomy or Marzano’s Thinking Skills to design the multiple steps for the student learning tasks.

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