Promote Deeper Thinking Through Digital Learning

Our students who are graduating into our increasingly global, technology-rich knowledge economy will need an expanded skill set to succeed. Kivunja (2014) argued that the skills that young people need to succeed as individuals, citizens and workers in the 21st century are the skills of critical thinking and problem solving, effective communication, collaboration, as well as creativity and innovation. According to ISTE standard 1d, students need to understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use and troubleshoot current technologies and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies. Technology skills in our students are becoming more and more important in the digital age. What role should technology play in the preparation of 21st century skills in our students, and how can we empower learners to engage in deeper learning through technologies to be college and careers ready? 

We believe that deeper learning prepares students to master core academic content, think critically and solve complex problems, work collaboratively, communicate effectively and learn how to learn. According to VanderArk and Schneider (2012), deeper learning occurs when students are able to merge their skills with opportunities to practice them in the context of meaningful projects that foster critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and other deeper learning skills. Digital learning enables new strategies and formats, such as online and blended learning and competency-based learning, which have the potential to contribute to deeper learning. Technology helps “teachers do more by creating new learning environments that leverage teacher talent and allow students to go deeper. It generates more personalization for students, and thus more motivation and persistence” (VanderArk & Schneider, 2012, p11). They also identified three primary ways that digital learning promotes deeper learning in students in their article. There are personalized skill building in preparation for deeper learning; schools and tools that foster deeper learning; and extended access to quality courses and materials online. For example, new technologies can be used to design curricula that can be readily adapted to individual differences, rather than curriculum-centered, approaches to teaching and learning; digital tools provide teachers with access to student data that can inform instruction in real time; and technology program can be designed to help students see what they need to learn, customized playlists to help students learn, and assessments and badges to show what they know in a personalized level.

While we see the potential of technologies and simulations to push deeper learning, educator’s knowledge and approach to implement technology into teaching plays a significant role in the success of deeper learning. The 4 Shifts Protocol by McLeod and Graber (2018) emphasized on deeper thinking and learning, authentic work, students agency and personalization, and technology infusion. This protocol helps educators to redesign technology infused lessons and units to enhance students deeper learning. For example, an elementary school Social Studies “Mystery Skype” lesson to connect two classes from different places and have students ask each other “yes” and “no” questions to guess where the other class’s location through Zoom meeting was fun and engaging with the use of technology. Educators were asked to redesign this lesson around deeper learning and students collaboration by using the questions from 4 Shifts Protocol. 

  1. Is student work foruced around big, important themes and concepts that are central to the discipline rather than isolated topic, trivia, or minutiae? 
  2. Do learning activities and assessments allow students to engage in complex and messy problem solving?
  3. When digital technologies are utilized, do the tools overshadow, mask or otherwise draw the focus aways from important learning? 

In result, the students were able to demonstrate the same level of engagement with online connection and use that opportunity to construct knowledge around content and generate questions and solutions. 

4 Shifts Protocol | @mcleod

In conclusion, the benefit of technologies in promoting deeper learning which leads students to success in college and prepare for careers is clear. However, in order to fully empower learners to engage in deeper learning through technology needs to be intentionally and purposefully designed and delivered by educators and school leaders. 


Kivunja, C. (2014). Teaching students to learn and to work well with 21st-century skills: Unpacking the career and life skills domain of the new learning paradigm. International Journal of Higher Education, 4(1), p1.

VanderArk, T., & Schneider, C. (2012, June). How Digital Learning Contributes to Deeper Learning.

McLeod, S., & Graber, J. (2018). Harnessing technology for deeper learning : (a quick guide to educational technology integration and digital learning spaces). ProQuest Ebook Central