Deeper Learning- Have Non-traditional Educators and Learners Been Doing This All Along?

Written By Uschool Team
January 31, 2021 7:53 PM

From time to time, Uschool contributors will share content that may originate or be most prevalent in traditional circles. Sometimes if you just cut out the edu-speak and obvious political noise, there are ideas and resources worthy of exploration. Underneath it all, you will likely realize these concepts have had a standing organic presence along your homeschool or other non-traditional paths. Perhaps this is reinforcement that what you are doing is both progressive and comprehensive! 

The deeper learning competencies (DLCs) have received a lot of attention in recent years...and it’s easy to see why. Conceptually it’s hard to argue that their presence doesn’t make a learning experience meaningful.

What are the Deeper Learning Competencies:

  1. Mastery of core academic content a deep knowledge base

  2. Thinking critically and solving complex problems

  3. Working collaboratively

  4. Communicating effectively

  5. Learning how to learn

  6. Developing an academic learner mindset

For those of us who like to think about all learning models, I would argue for the strikethroughs and slight alterations of one and six, as seen above. 

The Hewlett Foundation gets much of the credit for formally defining these powerful concepts and countless authors and thought leaders have picked up the ball and run with it. When you dig deeper you realize that in one form or another the DLCs stretch back much further. For example, in the late 19th century, John Dewey advocated for an education that not only involved content knowledge but learning how to live. To me, this means fostering a capacity to constantly experience and expand the self-directed joy of learning in ways that are fulfilling to self and tied to global relevance. DLCs, here we come!

As someone who spends a lot of time in and around traditional and non-traditional school models, I often use these competencies as a base indicator of the power of a teaching and learning scenario...whether it’s a live lesson or the development of an entire curriculum, the presence, and potential for the DLCs is a sign that great things are possible.

The DLCs are by no means the be-all-and-end-all of teaching and learning success. At the same time, it’s hard to find a balanced learning environment where the DLCs are not prevalent. In other words, if Deeper Learning elements are not apparent in some capacity, it’s likely the learning experience is not all it could be. Yes, this is a bold statement. If you read through the breakdown and definition of the DLCs you will hopefully realize there is nothing new and novel about each competency. You can probably think back to one or more of your most influential personal learning moments and realize the DLCs were present without specific mention. There’s also room to modify the Deeper Learning Competencies slightly for broader application across distinct philosophies. 

Ready for a simple example? The other day my six-year-old came running into the room where I was working incredibly excited about making her own “How to Survive in the Wilderness” guide. Naturally, I dropped what I was doing and engaged. 

  • She very clearly and articulately explained what she wanted to do and what she had learned about survival from various sources (communication, mastery of content, development of a learner mindset)

  • She explained to me how she had used various sources and blended her research with things she had seen in movies and other media and tried in our yard. She then talked about how when she had seen certain things previously they did not make total sense. Now with the research added it was clear (Learning how to learn/ metacognition and communicating effectively).

  • We then proceeded to work together to develop a digital template for her guide, organize and prioritize the content, etc. My daughter delegated elements to me and retained others for herself. We also decided to work closely on a couple of pieces. (Work collaboratively).

Over the course of a few days, we had an absolute blast putting this together! I’m not sure if I’m ready to let her trap animals or start a fire in our yard, but I do think she will do just fine if she ever gets lost in the woods. 

Put the Deeper Learning competencies together with a healthy dose of passion and craft and learners will do amazing things. Consider using them as an informal means of looking at the impact and staying power of teaching and learning. The next time your learner(s) is engrossed in a project having a blast, see if you can account for the presence of the Deeper Learning Competencies. The next time your learner is obviously disengaged, see if you can account for the absence of one or more of the Deeper Learning Competencies. Whether organically present or purposely built-in, the Deeper Learning Competencies are worth a regular look. If you’ve realized that this has been happening for your kids all along, take comfort in knowing you are likely doing more than a few things right!

Neil Marcaccio


A couple of  resources on the DLCs:

Uschool Team

About the Author

Have you ever wondered if there was a different way to do schooling? Does your family want more free time and a more flexible learning program? Does your child or teen feel unfulfilled by traditional schooling or homeschooling? Welcome to Uschool, the engaging and proven individualized learning platform for exceptional families and their children.

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