Healthy Skepticism--The Key Ingredient for Deep Learning

On my first day of college, as my parents dropped me off at Holy Cross, my father gave me some sage advice: the most important thing you can take away from your next four years is a healthy skepticism. As I earned my liberal arts degree, there were loads of learning activities that helped me to practice healthy skepticism: interpretive reading, argumentative writing, persuasive oral communications, peer instruction, and collaboration. These are all the building blocks of deep learning.

Today, more of our degrees are career focused than the liberal arts degree I attained. Theoretically, the general education portion of today’s degree exposes every student to the liberal arts. But, I have found in my extensive travels through higher education that way too many core courses are anti-healthy skepticism, They are survey courses--focused on a broad scan of a lot of content, on regurgitating terms, theories and concepts. Too often, we forgo the building blocks of deep learning.

There is a lot of research showing that employers are looking for students who are better prepared in these building block areas. For example, the National Association of Colleges and Employers, in a recent study, found that employers seek “soft skill” attributes more than the technical skills and theoretical knowledge that is so prevalent in today’s degrees.

There is no doubt that career-focused degrees are here to stay. Arguable, they should be. Education is so costly that it should prepare our learners for the world of work. But, to be successful employees, students also need to be taught how to be deep learners, possessing a healthy skepticism that in turn, cultivates lifelong learning. Schools fail their students if they don’t provide the opportunity to practice the building blocks of deep learning - and every degree should serve up healthy skepticism in large doses.