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4.2 Your approach

The approach you may choose to take depends why you are learning something. When your primary need is to pass a course, get a certificate or gain an overview of what others are trying to teach you, strategic learning is useful – deep learning could get in the way. You could get side-tracked by things that you are really interested in, rather than concentrating on the job at hand. If, on the other hand, your main interest is personal development, then deep learning is very useful and more fulfilling.

The real value of knowing about these different approaches is that it opens the possibility of using different approaches for different circumstances. Everyone is capable of becoming a strategic or deep, learner, and surface learning has its uses if you need to retain a lot of new information to pass a test, or only memorise something for a short period of time.

Entwistle’s research suggests that when students become more aware of their own approaches, they are in a better position to decide what they are trying to achieve from their studying, and to understand the implications of adopting specific approaches to learning.

The next activity gives you a chance to develop your understanding of Entwistle’s theory and see how it may be relevant to you and your learning.

Activity 4 Approaches to your own learning

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes for this activity.
  1. Draw a table similar to that shown in Figure 6.
  2. In the first column, list at least three fairly recent learning experiences you have had.
  3. In the second column, identify the learning approach or approaches involved.
  4. Now, think about whether you could have used an alternative learning approach. If so, then note this possible approach in the third column.
This drawing shows a page from a notebook, with three headings and a simple table.
Figure 6 ‘Approaches to learning’ table


Did you find that it was sometimes difficult to differentiate between the different approaches? This doesn’t mean that your answer is wrong. Sometimes there is an overlap between the different approaches and this may have been the case for you.