1.2 Identifying Learning in the Workplace / 1.2.2 Learning Approaches

This section covers the three main approaches to learning.

There are three main approaches to learning: surface, deep (Marton and Saljö, 1976) and strategic.

Surface and Deep

Surface learning is where a student will superficially engage with a topic. Surface learners will be able to memorise and recite information, but will rarely understand a topic in enough detail to explain why something is the case. On the other hand, deep learners will fully engage with a topic, seeking to understand the meaning behind the learning, they will be very concerned with the why.

It is the responsibility of an effective mentor to ensure that any surface learning is transitioned into deep learning through the process of observation, rehearsal and practice, coupled with detailed reflection.


Strategic learners are goal driven, and, as such, will employ surface and deep learning approaches to achieve an end result (Entwhistle and Ramsden, 1982).

Mentors should develop deep understanding in a strategic learner by using goal setting that requires deep understanding.


Marton, F., & Säljö, R. (1976). On qualitative differences in learning I - outcome and process. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 46, 4–11.

Entwistle, N. and Ramsden, P. (2015). Understanding Student Learning (Routledge Revivals). Routledge