About Deeper Learning

This website is no longer being consistently updated. However, the links on this page are still active and we invite you to explore these valuable resources.

For more updates about deeper learning work, please visit the Midwest Comprehensive Center and Great Lakes Comprehensive Center websites.


In today’s rapidly changing and complex world, students need far more than traditional academics to be successful. To tackle the social, environmental, and economic problems of tomorrow, our students will need a broader set of knowledge and skills that enables them to understand, navigate, adapt, and thrive in response to novel and complex problems and contexts. Referred to as “deeper learning,” this broad set of transferable knowledge and skills—including deep content knowledge, critical thinking and problem solving, and interpersonal and intrapersonal skills—is increasingly recognized as the essential competencies that students need for success in college, in the 21st-century workplace, and as future citizens.


The term deeper learning refers to the competencies students need for 21st-century success—the what—as well as the approaches educators can use to build these competencies—the how.


Deeper Learning
Competencies: What do students need to know and be able to do to thrive in the 21st century?

What do students need to know and be able to do to thrive in the 21st century? The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation defines deeper learning as “a set of competencies students must master in order to develop a keen understanding of academic content and apply their knowledge to problems in the classroom and on the job.” Similarly, the National Research Council (NRC) defines deeper learning as “the process through which an individual becomes capable of taking what was learned in one situation and applying it to new situations (i.e., transfer). As shown in Figure 1, key to deeper learning is how content knowledge, thinking skills, and interpersonal and intrapersonal skills work together to enable students to continuously expand, strengthen, and propel their learning forward as they adapt and thrive in our rapidly changing and complex world.


Deeper Learning
Approaches: How can educators promote deeper learning competencies in students?

How can educators promote deeper learning competencies in students? The Study of Deeper Learning conducted by American Institutes for Research (AIR) outlined a theory of action to explain how students build deeper learning competencies. As shown in Figure 2, AIR researchers theorize that educators can use a range of approaches to help create opportunities for students to build deeper learning competencies. Although there is no simple recipe to promote deeper learning in students, research examining the link between instructional strategies and learning for transfer (i.e., the ability to apply what is learned to novel problems and contexts) provides additional supporting evidence for the approaches associated with the development of deeper learning competencies. Deeper learning approaches offer students the opportunity to engage in content-rich, challenging, applied, and collaborative experiences and also offer them the chance to receive meaningful feedback, reflect, and take responsibility for their own learning. By engaging in these deeper learning opportunities, students can build the broad knowledge and transferable skills they will need to continuously learn, adapt, and thrive in the 21st century.