The effects of discipline on deep approaches to student learning and college outcomes

Thomas F. Nelson Laird, Rick Shoup, George D. Kuh, Michael J. Schwarz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


"Deep learning" represents student engagement in approaches to learning that emphasize integration, synthesis, and reflection. Because learning is a shared responsibility between students and faculty, it is important to determine whether faculty members emphasize deep approaches to learning and to assess how much students employ these approaches. This study examines the effect of discipline on student use of and faculty members' emphasis on deep approaches to learning as well as on the relationships between deep approaches to learning and selected educational outcomes. Using data from over 80,000 seniors and 10,000 faculty members we found that deep approaches to learning were more prevalent in Biglan's soft, pure, and life fields compared to their counterparts. The differences were largest between soft and hard fields. We also found that seniors who engage more frequently in deep learning behaviors report greater educational gains, higher grades, and greater satisfaction with college, and that the strength of these relationships is relatively consistent across disciplinary categories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)469-494
Number of pages26
JournalResearch in Higher Education
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • College seniors
  • Deep learning
  • Discipline
  • Faculty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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