Home » Digital Humanities » Plateaus v Quagmires: Quick Notes on Surface Learning, Deep Learning, and the Power of a Good Night’s Sleep

Plateaus v Quagmires: Quick Notes on Surface Learning, Deep Learning, and the Power of a Good Night’s Sleep

Last night I was about ready to throw laptop, Mac, and all against the wall…and today I was able to continue mapping, slowly but surely! Yesterday’s frustration made me think about plateaus in learning. Just as we all know the joy of accomplishment, we all know what it’s like to reach a plateau–to look around and experience the feeling that we’ve come just as far as we’ve can, and don’t feel able to go further. But that’s different from being stuck: instead, I decided to spend my plateau time enjoying the view and thinking about what I’ve learned so far.

This also recalls Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do. Bain distinguishes between the strategic learning many of our students, and all of us have engaged in at some point–learning for the test, learning proficiently, yet not going deeper. (So your Italian disappears after your trip; you can’t stick a handstand anymore after yoga teacher training; and OMG, what happened to your math–sound familiar?). In contrast, deep learning is lasting, interrogative, and exploratory–it takes longer. The benefit is depth, the trade-off is time. I’ve learned so much so quickly in the past two months and have been exposed to so many new things (I use the passive deliberately here) that I want to guard against the superficiality that can accompany strategic learning.

I never thought I’d be quoting Alexander Pope on this blog, but here’s a little one from “Essay on Criticism”:

“A little learning is a dangerous thing,

Drink deeply, or taste not the Pierian spring.”


1 Comment

  1. I realise this isn’t the point you were making, but you’ve given me an idea to combat my insomnia: read Alexander Pope at bedtime. Thanks!

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