Internationally recognized teaching scholar encourages the fostering of deep learning and adaptive expertise

3.19.2010 General, News Release, School News

The best teachers have “the ability to pose fascinating, important, intriguing problems to students,” according to Ken Bain, author of What the Best College Teachers Do.

Dean of Business Steve Reinemund invited Bain to share his research and insight with Wake Forest University Schools of Business faculty.

“Think about something you learned deeply because you took a deep approach,” Ken Bain asked the audience of about 45 faculty members while speaking March 19, 2010 at the Wake Forest University.

Responses affirmed his contention that, “human beings tend to take a deep approach and deep understanding when they try to solve problems and questions that they believe are important, intriguing, or just beautiful.”

Bain described three types of learners: surface learners, strategic learners and deep learners. Surface learners are driven by fear of failure. They memorize material and resort to the easiest strategy. Strategic learners are driven by competition and desire for recognition. They learn procedurally and may become routine experts in their disciplines, but fail to take risks or become adaptive. “Deep learners recognize and even relish the necessity of invention,” said Bain.

We are born taking a deep approach to learning, according to Bain, but our schooling experience with its grading systems and time constraints, directs us to a surface or strategic approach.

In his research, Bain found the best educators begin courses with a question already on the minds of their students and find a path to the questions and problems that the course may address.

He recommends that teachers should start with specific examples before moving towards general theories. “Engage students in speculation before they have looked at answers,” he said. “Try, provide feedback, try again and try again in advance and separate from grading of work,” he said.

Ken Bain is Vice Provost for Instruction, Professor of History, and Director of the Research Academy for University Learning at Montclair State University. He is also the, winner of the Virginia and Warren Stone Prize for an outstanding book on education and society. He is currently completing his third book on U.S. relations with the Middle East.