John West-Burnham

Educational Leadership Development

Article Sections


The Indicators of Deep and Profound Learning

  • Explanation: the ability to create and share meaning.
  • Classification: the ability to analyse and codify.
  • Exemplification: the capacity to describe, model and illustrate.
  • Transfer: the ability to see and make connection between topics and themes.
  • Justification: a tendency to ask ´why?´ ´how?´ and ´what if?´ questions.
  • Comparison: the ability to contrast and identify common characteristics.
  • Contextualisation: the ability to recognise relationships and differences.
  • Generalisation: the ability to formulate hypotheses and patterns.
  • Action: the ability to translate theory into practice.
  • Meta cognition: self-awareness and self-direction.

(See Perkins, D. (1998) Smart Schools Smart Schools)

Supporting the Deep and Profound Learner

There appear to be a range of strategies that support the development of deep and profound learning. In no particular order of priority these might include:

  • A clear understanding of learning styles, aptitudes, dispositions and motivation supported by regular review and the development of strategies to enhance and sustain personal learning effectiveness.
  • Access to a portfolio of cognitive strategies – analysis, synthesis, causality and cognitive skills, e.g. memorising.
  • Teaching which is based on challenge, (possibly using the Csikszentmaihalyi model of flow) problem solving and relevant decision making.
  • Teachers who work using constructivist approaches; the wide spread use of coaching and mentoring and the facilitation of small group and team based strategies.
  • The development of sophisticated interpersonal relationships and high emphasis on the social dimensions of learning. The development of emotional literacy across the school.
  • The use of personalized learning pathways with negotiated learning outcomes and assessment for learning strategies to ensure relevance and potential application. The curriculum as a personal construct.
  • A focus on the ´whole´ learner recognising the role of the family and community in supporting access to effective learning.
  • Systematic review and reflection.

On the basis of these propositions it is possible to identify the characteristics of the learner and teacher engaged in deep and profound learning:

The effective learner knows how to learn and has a disposition to do so. She can identify, on her own, and /or with others, a problem, analyse its components and then marshal the resources, human and non-human, to solve it. She continuously questions herself and others as to whether she is employing the best methods. She can explain the processes of her learning and its outcomes to her peers and others, when such a demonstration is required. She is able to organise information and, through understanding, convert it into knowledge. She is sensitive to her personal portfolio of intelligences and continually reviews her development as a learner.

She knows when it is best to work alone, when with a mentor and when in a team, and knows how to contribute to and gain from teamwork. She sustains a sharp curiosity and takes infinite pains in all she does.

Above all, she has that security in self, built through a wide and deep set of relationships and through her own feelings of worth fostered in part by others, to be at ease with doubt, and to welcome questioning and probing of all aspects of her knowledge.

(This definition was originally developed by Christopher Bowring-Carr)

The effective teacher has a deep understanding of the neurological, cognitive, emotional and social aspects of learning. She balances this knowledge with the ability to access subject information and the strategies to convert it into personal knowledge.

She works through challenges, posing problems and setting questions ensuring that they are appropriate to the individual learner and that the learner has the skills to respond to them. She creates a sense of emotional security by building trust and confidence and working in an interdependent manner. She has a deep respect for the identity and integrity of every learner.

The effective teacher works primarily as a facilitator and mentor. She is skilled in negotiating learning strategies, understanding the learner´s motivation and has a passionate belief in the potential of every learner. She recognises, reinforces and celebrates achievement and ensures that there are abundant opportunities for the learner to experience valid and appropriate success. She is highly sensitive to the student´s social context.

Above all she models learning, reviewing her own practice with her mentor, deepening her understanding of the learning process and engaging in networks with other teachers.

According to Law (2006) learning for moral development should include the following elements, because, as he puts it:

Children should be encouraged to scrutinize their own beliefs and explore other points of view. While not wanting to be overly prescriptive, I would suggest that skills to be cultivated should at least include the ability to:

  • reveal and question underlying assumptions,
  • figure out the perhaps unforeseen consequences of a moral decision or point of view,
  • spot and diagnose faulty reasoning,
  • weigh up evidence fairly and impartially,
  • make a point clearly and concisely,
  • take turns in a debate, and listen attentively without interrupting,
  • argue without personalizing a dispute,
  • look at issues form the point of view of others, and
  • question the appropriateness of, or the appropriateness of acting on, one´s own feelings


In summary, deep and profound learning is the result of:

  • Seeing learning as a process rather than an outcome.
  • Developing a cognitive ´toolkit´ ndash; a repertoire of learning strategies and techniques.
  • Ensuring that mentoring is a basic component of all learning activities.
  • Providing opportunities to demonstrate understanding through formative and negotiated assessment.
  • Focusing on learning through challenge.

Deep learning involves the shared creation of understanding – the basis for shared meaning and informed action. It is the basis of all significant human activity.

It is the obligation of any society in which we would choose to live to maintain the openness and to facilitate the routes to new insights and new understandings. We oppose those psychological and educational approaches that threaten that openness or presume to deny its importance and even its existence. (Gardner (2006) p 212)

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