Deep Processing (in Cognitive Learning)

Deep Processing Cognitive refers to detailed, intensive thinking that brings about the formation of memory representations, also known as learning. Learning cannot take place without deep processing of information. Psychologists refer to "levels of processing," in which deep processing is compared to a more superficial, or shallow, level of processing.

Some experts state that different students have different styles of learning (processing) while others conclude that whether a student chooses to perform deep or shallow processing is a matter of choice. These experts believe that the student adapts his style of learning to the type of material to be learned and to his own expectations of what is to be gained by covering the material. Studies have shown that patterns of neural activity change according to the type of study undertaken: shallow versus deep.

An attempt has been made to find a cognitive neuroscientific explanation to describe the effects of these levels. Processing that draws on the powers of verbal speech is a kind of deep processing that appears to activate certain regions of the brain's left frontal cortex. The more automatic processing tasks, such as those related to phonological processing, or shallow tasks such as encoding, for instance, do not activate these regions. Scientists feel that since these shallow tasks do not require the individual to form a representation of information in the ventral prefrontal cortex, it may be that such tasks are not efficient at forming memories. The information may not "sink in."

In one study, scientists manipulated processing by presenting half the information in visual format and half in an auditory format. In both cases, the study subjects were charged with word retrieval tasks. The researchers discovered that the subjects who had engaged in deep processing had better recall performance than those who had learned on a shallower, more superficial level.

Other studies have shown that the response time for retrieving information is longer for a shallow encoding task in comparison with an encoding task involving deep meaning. The type of processing used is a predictor of subsequent memory. Deep encoding always produces better memory performance than shallow encoding.

In their 1997 work, Learning and Awareness, Ference Marton and Shirley Booth developed a theory that one can actively apply deep processing to learning by using all one's abilities to the fullest to process material to great depths. The converse of the theory is that one can apply a more superficial processing strategy using the same abilities, but in a more cursory fashion, to cover only the surface of the information.

In another study from 1976 entitled, On Qualitative Differences in Learning , Marton and Roger Saljo had students read short passages of text and relate what they had learned. The researchers found that students learned in one of two different styles. Some of the students employed the deep approach to the materials while others chose a shallow approach. Each approach was linked to an expected learning outcome. The researchers concluded that the chosen approach had less to do with personality differences in students than with the perceived relationship between the learner and the task.

When the students were questioned about their approaches to the text, researchers found that a chosen approach had to do with what students expected to gain from the reading material. Students articulated one or the other of two different intentions: to gain an understanding of the meaning of the text or to remember important points and terms with accuracy in anticipation of subsequent questioning on these details. The students who processed the reading material for meaning focused on ideas and themes, while those who strove for memorizing details were more focused on words and phrases.

The first approach represents deep processing, while the second approach represents shallow processing. The deep approach generated a higher-level recounting of the material with details used only to illustrate and support ideas, while the shallow approach missed the connections that linked the facts together and as a result, led to an inability to identify the main idea of the story. The researchers concluded that the processing differences had less to do with the individuals than with the perceived relationship between student and task. Marton called this concept "phenomenography."

In a study performed in 2000, called Promoting deep learning through teaching and assessment: conceptual frameworks and educational contexts, Noel Entwistle studied Aboriginal university students who had acquired skills through observing and imitating others. At first, these activities might be undertaken without understanding, which may suggest shallow processing. However, if these skills are then applied and used for problem-solving or for learning more about interesting subjects, they could be said to represent a deep approach.

Other researchers believe that a student who is interested in and engaged with the material will employ deep processing while the student who is bored will choose a shallow approach to the material. These researchers believe these choices reflect neither personality nor ability. Rather, these approaches are chosen according to the students' environmental stimuli.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Differences in Learning Styles of College Students Attending Similar Universities in Different Geographic Locations
Clump, Michael A.; Skogsberg, Katieann.
College Student Journal, Vol. 37, No. 4, December 2003
Prediction of Educational Psychology Course Grades by Age and Learning Style Scores *
Gadzella, Bernadette M.; Stephens, Rebecca; Baloglu, Mustafa.
College Student Journal, Vol. 36, No. 1, March 2002
High and Low Achieving Education Students on Processing, Retaining, and Retrieval of Information
Gadzella, Bernadette M.; Baloglu, Mustafa.
Journal of Instructional Psychology, Vol. 30, No. 2, June 2003
Changes to Students' Learning Processes Following Instruction on the Topic
Clump, Michael A.
Journal of Instructional Psychology, Vol. 32, No. 4, December 2005
The Relationships among Achievement, Goal Orientation, and Study Strategies
Al-Emadi, Abdulqader A.
Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, Vol. 29, No. 8, January 1, 2001
Assessing Learning Styles among Students with and without Learning Disabilities at a Distance-Learning University
Heiman, Tali.
Learning Disability Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 1, Winter 2006
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