Three Types of Learners

College students will take - usually without even realizing it – one of three basic approaches to their studies that will determine much of what they get out of school.

“Surface learners” as the psychologists called them, looked for facts and words they could memorize, attempting to anticipate any questions someone might ask them. In subsequent studies, we have learned that surface learners usually focus only on passing the exam nor on every using anything they read.

Meanwhile, other students expressed much different purposes. They wanted to understand the meaning behind the text and to think about its implications and applications, to search for arguments, and to distinguish between supporting evidence and conclusions. These are “deep learners.”

There is a third style of learning that students will take. “Strategic” learners primarily intend simply to make good grades, often for the sake of graduate or professional school.  These people will usually shine in the classroom and make their parents proud of their high marks. In many ways, they look like deep learners but their fundamental concerns is different. They focus almost exclusively on how to find out what the professor wants and how to ace the exam. If they learn something along the way that changes the way they think, act, or feel, that’s largely an accident.

They rarely go off on an intellectual journey through those unexplored woods of life, riding their curiosity into a wonderland of intellectual adventure and imagination. They approach college with a checklist rather than with any sense of awe and fascination.

Ken Bain, What the Best College Students Do