Skip to main content

Building Communities of Shared Practice: How to Foster Deep Learning

Does the following checklist look, or sound, familiar to you?

  • unchecked

    Pedagogical focus for the following school year is agreed upon

  • unchecked

    Professional Development dates are confirmed on the calendar

  • unchecked

    The amazing workshop leader or consultant is booked

  • unchecked

    Teachers implement what they learned on the PD day(s) in their classrooms to enhance student learning

How often do you check ALL of the boxes? Which box is typically the most important? Which box is the one typically left unchecked? Why? And more importantly, how can we improve in this area?

My guess is that most of us, if not all of us, agree that the final box for the questions above proves to be the most challenging. But why? The bottom line is that without the chance to continue learning about the topic and actively using the tools/strategies delivered during the PD sessions, people simply revert back to what they have in the existing toolbox because they haven’t truly experienced deep learning of the content presented. So, how can we provide for deep learning which turn fosters a deeper level of implementation within the different areas of our respective organizations? 

Understanding the Divide: Deep Learning vs Superficial Learning

Recent research underscores the profound impact of deep learning compared to superficial learning. Deep learning involves the acquisition of new knowledge and skills, fostering critical thinking, problem-solving abilities, and long-term retention. According to the National Academy of Sciences (2018): Deep learning is a "process through which an individual becomes capable of taking what was learned in one situation and applying it to a new situation.", whereas superficial learning emphasizes rote memorization and surface-level understanding, often resulting in short-lived knowledge retention and limited application of learned concepts.” 

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) goes a bit further to contend that deep learning occurs when learners (or learning leaders in this case) come to understand and make sense of important ideas and processes—and are able to transfer those understandings to new content and contexts. This, in all likelihood cannot be transmitted by simply telling them or showing some slides during a 1-day workshop or even a spaced out multi-day workshop. The ASCD goes on to highlight that “the phrases ‘coming to understand’ and ‘making sense of’ suggest that deep learning occurs over time and requires active meaning making by the learner.

The Challenges We Face

Why does superficial learning persist in educational environments, especially for teacher PD? Several factors contribute to this phenomenon:

  • Time constraints: Educational leaders are mindful that teachers have limited time and therefore try to get the most “bang for the buck” on those PD days, possibly prioritizing breadth of content coverage over deeper understanding and implementation challenges.

  • Collaboration Methods: For many schools collaboration means meetings, a word, and experience, that many educators feel encroach on their already minimal time.  

  • Resource Limitations: Access to tools and methodologies that facilitate deep learning can be limited, hindering educators' ability to continue learning on, or about, the topic presented during those PD days. The expert, or someone close to the expert, is not typically within reach leaving teachers on their own to try to learn more and/or implement. 

Bridging the Gap: Tools for Fostering Deep Learning

Addressing these challenges requires intentional interventions and the adoption of tools that empower educators to cultivate deep learning experiences and get past the challenges outlined above. Some key characteristics include: 

  • Interactive Learning Platforms: Utilize engaging digital platforms that encourage collaborative problem-solving and critical thinking among learners in an asynchronous learning environment. This allows educators the agency to prioritize their time, but still within a community of learners that can continue to grow together.

  • Data-Driven Insights Focused on Application (not simply ‘right/wrong’ answers): Leverage analytics to identify areas where learners struggle to grasp concepts deeply, enabling personalized interventions or future tasks/projects that can enhance deeper understanding in those identified areas. 

Empowering Educators for Lasting Impact

By leveraging the tools and methodologies provided by Huddle Up Learning, educational leaders can spearhead a transformative shift towards deep learning:

  • Empowering Educators: Equip teacher-learners with the tools needed to facilitate deep learning experiences, fostering a culture of innovation, inquiry, and collaboration where learning and application can live days, weeks, and months after the PD day(s).

  • Enhancing Student Engagement: Engage teacher-learners in meaningful learning experiences that eventually lead to confident implementation that promote curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking without the need for meetings and/or taking up too much time.

  • Driving Long-Term Retention: Promote knowledge retention and application that permeates throughout the school culture and extends into each educator’s respective classrooms. 

The pursuit of deep learning is not merely an aspiration but a necessity in today's educational landscape. 

By acknowledging the distinction between deep learning and superficial learning, identifying the challenges hindering deep learning adoption, and embracing innovative tools such as those offered by, educational leaders can pave the way for transformative educational experiences. To learn more or to schedule a demo contact us at

This is part one of four-part series exploring how teams and  organizations can build Communities of Shared Practice to foster a deeper culture of learning. 

Vic Caban has been an educational leader at various schools and in various roles for over 20 years. His focus on building culture through shared experiences and existing human capital has been the focus throughout his career. His experiences in different countries including Egypt, China, Costa Rica, Switzerland and the USA provide him with a broad perspective to help you level-up your learning community. Vic is the Director of Engagement & Outreach at Huddle Up Learning.


Popular posts from this blog

The Evolution of Online Learning: Four Stages and What's Next?

(This 2022 post was modified in July 2023.) The pandemic has made everyone far more knowledgeable about online learning platforms than they were 24 months ago. We each know (and feel) the strengths and the limitations of more than a few platforms.  We each have a long and growing list of features we want to see in the next evolution of online learning.  So, it seems a rather good time to step back and explore the evolution of online learning - to see how far we've come, and where we might be heading. One of the best resources out there is a simple progression chart shared in this intriguing article by Tiago Forte. The Future of Education is Community: The Rise of Cohort-Based Courses The evolution of online learning: What's next? We love big-picture reflections like this. While we are all aware of the current disconnect that still exists between the reality of our online learning platforms and the skills and knowledge we want to transfer to learners, we can all agree that the e

When did collaboration and learning become separated?

I like to talk to people about what systems, structures, and platforms they use to help their teams collaborate, learn, and problem-solve.  It doesn't really matter if I'm talking with trainers, consultants, or educators. I usually hear something like this: "We have our (training) courses inside of  ( INSERT NAME OF LMS HERE) . And, then we collaborate every week on  ( INSERT ZOOM, SLACK, GOOGLE MEET, ETC) " When did we start thinking / saying this?  Was this a prevalent phrase pre-pandemic? I don't remember hearing it then. (Perhaps I wasn't listening.) It's certainly a common paradigm now. More importantly, what impact does its arrival have on the way we structure our team's environments? For starters, it brings up a few odd questions. Aren't we naturally better learners when we collaborate? Aren't we better collaborators when we're learning along the way? Don't we do one better when we incorporate the other? When we think of the syst

Huddle Up: A Getting Started Guide for Project Leaders

Welcome to Huddle Up! This guide is to help Huddle Up Project Leaders get started. If you don't find the information you want below, e mail us or schedule a meeting with our team. If you wish to learn more general information about Huddle Up, click here . If you wish to join a project as a Huddle Up participant, click here . Your Interactive Platform We transform the way cohorts collaborate and learn by focusing on shared ideas and feedback  to build a more connected online community. CONTENTS OF THE GUIDE Registering on Huddle Up Creating a Project Inviting Users to Join Your Project Setting Up and Running Your Project General Overview Adding / Adjusting Content to your Project   Add a Ready Add a Run Add a Huddle Communicating and Interacting within Huddle Up REGISTERING ON HUDDLE UP If you have a Google account, register in just one click. Otherwise, create an account with any email and password combination. You will receive a confirmation email, pl