Learning in Depth

Taking a different angle at curriculum, we're considering Kieran Egan's Learning in Depth approach. Simple idea... may have profound implications?

Egan, K. (2008). Learning in depth, Educational Leadership, ASCD, 66 (3), 58-63.

Why is this important?

  • It makes students specialists.

    • “Surveys have consistently reported that a majority of students know little of the curriculums they have studied during their 12 years of schooling (see Barrows, 1981; Bauerlein, 2008; National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983).”

    • “One problem is that throughout their schooling, students remain “outside” the knowledge they study. Learning in depth would permit students to get “inside” that topic area.”

    • “Knowledge makes its own demands on the mind.”

  • It teaches students the difference between opinion and fact.

    • “At present, the superficiality of most school learning leaves many students vulnerable to deceptive claims. Students don’t really understand what it means to secure a claim to knowledge. They seldom learn how knowledge differs from belief and opinion, thereby making them, potentially, more gullible. Some are prone to take on board unsound beliefs whereas others become assertively confident in their own opinions about things in which they lack secure knowledge. As G. K. Chesterton once remarked, it’s not that people who lack deep knowledge come to believe nothing, but rather that they will believe anything.”

  • It hones skills that transfer to learning in other content areas

  • It encourages learning for its own sake.

    • “Chances are, students who have had the opportunity to learn something in depth will become lifelong learners.”

  • It creates a community of learners.

  • It stimulates the imagination.

    • “However, the downside of the emphasis on such procedural skills is a disastrous underestimation of the importance of actually knowing things and having access to knowledge in the memory—because the imagination works only with what we know (Egan, 1997, 2005). The imagination is not some idle spinning of airy nothings, as some have represented it, but one of the great workhorses of learning. The more we know about something, the more imaginative we can be about it—and the more imaginatively we can problem solve.”

Will it work?

  • “But boredom is a product of ignorance; the more we know about something, the more interesting it becomes.”

  • “Some may think that many of these topics are developmentally inappropriate for very young children. I have always liked what psychologist Jerome Seymour Bruner had to say about that. He wrote, “Any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to a child at any stage of development” (1966, p. 33).”

  • “Learning in depth can transform schooling. As students gradually build their portfolios, they exercise increasing ownership of their learning. They become explorers in a long and fascinating adventure in which they invite the rest of us— teachers, peers, and parents alike—to explore along with them.”

Barrows, T. S., et al. (1981). College students’ knowledge and beliefs: A survey of global understanding: The final report of the Global Understanding Project. New Rochelle, NY: Change Magazine Press.

Bauerlein, M. (2008). The dumbest generation: How the digital age stupefies young Americans and jeopardizes our future (or, don’t trust anyone under 30). New York: Penguin.

Bruner, J. S. (1966). Toward a theory of instruction. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Egan, K. (1997) The educated mind: How cognitive tools shape our understanding. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Egan, K. (2005). An imaginative approach to teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gardner, H. (1991). The unschooled mind. New York: Basic Books.

National Commission on Excellence in Education. (1983). A nation at risk: The imperative for educational reform.Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

Egan, K & Madej, K. (2009). Learning in depth: Students as experts, Education Canada, 49 (2), 18-23.
“By learning about something in depth, we come to grasp it from the inside, as it were, rather than accumulating breadth of knowledge to which we remain always on the outside. With regard to the knowledge we learn in breadth, we always rely on the expertise of others; when learning in depth, we develop our own expertise. That in-depth learning carries over to a better understanding of all our other, broader knowledge.”

“Educational philosophers have consistently claimed that only by learning something in depth can a person escape from the confusions that commonly accompany a superficial knowledge base.”


  1. Very informative article, Which you have shared here about the Learning. I liked your way to express your views here. Keep sharing this type of articles here. Tutoring service near me


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