Why does student centred learning lead to deep learning

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There has been a switch in teaching methodology in the past 15-20 years in professional institutes. This switch is from teacher focused to student focused approach for delivery of knowledge. I have been teaching undergraduate medical students for last three years. In the initial two years, I used to teach in the traditional system of teacher focused learning. During my stay at medical college, the student centred learning system was introduced and I became a facilitator in that new model. This student centred approach was based on adult theory of learning.

The adult theory of learning claims that adults can learn better by inquiring about things. The inquiry leads to search for an answer and reasoning. This has been named as Self-directed learning. In teaching methodology, this approach has been used. It is called as student centred learning. In the student centred learning, the student think on the problem/ question in hand. They work as a group to probe the question. The group is small enough to give chance to every student to participate. When solving the problem, they give their reflection and think about it. It has long been discussed that in the traditional way of teaching used to develop superficial learning.

In this portfolio, I shall discuss the reason for this change and its benefits to the students in the form of depth of knowledge. The reason to address this issue is to enhance my own knowledge of the student centred approach and how it leads to deep learning. For this, I shall go through a brief literature review to get an insight about the relation between the two.

Literature Review:

Learning has been divided broadly into three main categories, surface learning, deep learning and strategic learning. Surface learning technique is adopted in the traditional way of teaching. The student only learns to pass exams and to get good grades. In the traditional way of teaching, it is the teacher who is putting in all the input while the student's role is just of a passive listener. It has a large group format (LGF) for example a lecture. The teacher cannot communicate with each and every student individually. Thus it leads to one way of communication. The students do not have to use their intrinsic inquiry skills. The knowledge is enforced on the student and extrinsic in nature. The information which is important for exams is memorized to reproduce.

Deep learning is a concept which was initially introduced in late sixty's. It is a method of learning through which the knowledge is retained for a long period of time. Deep learning relates previous knowledge to new knowledge. The student uses adult learning approach of argumentation and reasoning. The knowledge gained from different subjects is integrated and seen as a whole. The origin for the thirst of knowledge is internal in nature i.e. the student himself wants to learn more and more to satisfy him/herself. The students feel excited about the topic and they feel a thrill in it. The studies become enjoyable and finding of answers give deep satisfaction.

The strategic learning is an approach to learning in which student decides according to his/ her circumstances. These circumstances may be based on availability of time, importance of the topics, achievement of the maximum level of scores needed, etc. A surface or a deep learner will not always be a surface or a deep learner. All these three approaches are used by the same student at different times according to his requirement and interests.

Conceptions of Learning:

"Learning" means different things to different people. The study conducted by SHYPERLINK "http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/referenc.htm#MARTON F and SÄLJÃ-(1976)"äljö in 1979 classified the conceptions held by respondents in his interview-based study into five categories which are:

Qualitative increase in knowledge.


Acquiring facts, skills and methods.

Making sense or abstracting meaning.

Interpreting and understanding reality in different way.

There is a shift between conceptions 3 and 4. It has been argued that 1, 2 and 3 are views which underpin surface learning strategies, while 4 and 5 relate to deep learning.

Another study was carried out to find how students think about learning. The study also looked into the different ways, students adopt to learn. The students were interviewed in-depth about their approaches to learning. The approaches were than categorised after interview. In next step, different indicators were developed to measure these approaches and their relation to each other. It was identified that deep approach to learning is an active process. It involves relating ideas and use evidence as its base. Deep learning examines the logic and the argument and motivates the development of one's own understanding.

The study showed that approaches to teaching affects the students approach to learning. In the teacher focused approach, the students used to reproduce the knowledge. It was entirely left on the student to integrate the knowledge without preparing them for it. In the student centred approach, the teachers trained their students how to integrate their knowledge and promoted deep learning. The eagerness, clarification and understanding are the reasons which most likely provoked deep learning approach. The role of assessment played an important role in student approaches to learning. The student centred learning shifts students towards deep learning. The flow charts in figure 1 and 2 show the approaches to learning and relationship of student centred learning to deep learning.

Figure 1. Approaches to learning

Figure 2. Conceptual framework of student centred learning leading to deep learning

A study was conducted to analyse laboratory data in veterinary clinical pathology. They adopted a student centred approach of learning to see the depth of the knowledge acquired by the student. The method included group discussion and reflective observation by the students. The students were given an abnormal laboratory data. They analysed the data, discussed it, give their views on it and its application in management of the case. The students were than evaluated by self-reflection, peer feedback and questionnaire. The study concluded that the student centred approach led to ownership of knowledge. The use of group discussion and reflection enhanced interpersonal skills and encourage deep approach to learning. It led to ownership of the knowledge and better understanding. The students realised the worth of their subject in the investigative process.


In my experience of three years of teaching of undergraduate medical students, I found student centred approach more helpful to students. We introduced the problem based learning for our 2009-2010 1st year students in Peshawar Medical College, Pakistan. The problem based learning (PBL) is one of the student centred approach in which the students are given a piece of information along with learning outcomes. The piece of information is based on real life scenario. It has an element of inquiry in it. The students discuss the topic. They give their views and share their background knowledge with each other in a group.

This sharing of the knowledge fill in the gaps and some of the answers are identified at that very same time. The pieces of information which are lacking are identified as learning needs. The students search for those learning needs and try to integrate the knowledge from different sources. This is done individually or the students can sit as a group. The students meet after a gap of few days, mostly within the same week. They share the information which they have gained in these days about the learning needs. The information is integrated within the scenario. This approach suits to the criteria for deep learning. The knowledge gained is for long period of time. It can be applied to the real world situation. This student centred approach also enhanced student's interpersonal, communication and research skills.

My own experience of teaching in both the teacher focused and student focused approach was the same as it has been said in the literature. It was more enjoyable, both for the teachers as well as for the students. Although, the students did felt overburdened due to the vastness of Medical knowledge but to become a professional doctor, the students also need better understanding of the medical knowledge. The immatureness and disinterest of the students was one other challenge which was overcomed by student centred approach. In my opinion, there is no easy way and the aim is to produce better professionals. Till now in my own limited experience of undergraduate teaching, the best way to get in-depth knowledge is the student centred approach.