Deconstructing deep and surface: Towards a critique of phenomenography

The author of this article tried to deconstruct the deep/surface learning concept through a phenomenography perspective. After deconstructing the concept he used it as a metaphor to question the power within higher education development of discourse.  In order to do that, the writer first explained the reasons why he chose the terms of ‘deep’ and ‘surface’ learning as a metaphor and then he continued by describing the definition of deep/surface learning.  Finally, he proposed an argument about the relationship between the discourse and the power.

Deep learning concept refers to a process of learning which one tries to understand the material and build the meaning so that students can apply the knowledge in another situation. While in a surface learning, a student would just try to remember the facts or the materials. Many previous studies encouraged students to move from surface learning into deep learning style.

Also, according to many previous studies, the concept of deep learning is better than the surface learning. This raised a question and critiques about the ‘truth’ of this concept. Using phenomenography to capture the ‘Other’ voice, the writer then tried to deconstruct this concept.  According to him, we as a researcher cannot fall into two binaries of categories such as deep and surface and defined them as deep learning is good and the other is bad. Because even in surface learning, by memorising fact over and over again will lead to deep learning as well.

Using this deep/surface metaphor, the writer then asked the reader to have a critical thinking especially in the power within the higher education. Who have the authorities to speak about the truth? The higher education development discourse mainly dominance by white people (from western culture) who have more access to the media such as academic journals and conferences. Therefore, they have more chances to speak about their education development. The author strongly suggested opening our view to those people who were marginalized. To share the power and encouraged the ‘Other’ to present their perspective, interest and develop their own teaching and learning interpretation.


Webb, G. (1997). Deconstructing deep and surface: Towards a critique of phenomenography. Higher Education 33:195-212

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