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Learning in Depth

A Simple Innovation That Can Transform Schooling

For generations, schools have aimed to introduce students to a broad range of topics through curriculum that ensure that they will at least have some acquaintance with most areas of human knowledge by the time they graduate. Yet such broad knowledge can’t help but be somewhat superficial—and, as Kieran Egan argues, it omits a crucial aspect of true education: deep knowledge.

Real education, Egan explains, consists of both general knowledge and detailed understanding, and in Learning in Depth he outlines an ambitious yet practical plan to incorporate deep knowledge into basic education. Under Egan’s program, students will follow the usual curriculum, but with one crucial addition: beginning with their first days of school and continuing until graduation, they will eachalso study one topic—such as apples, birds, sacred buildings, mollusks,circuses, or stars—in depth. Over the years, with the help and guidance of their supervising teacher, students will expand their understanding of their one topic and build portfolios of knowledge that grow and change along with them. By the time they graduate each student will know as much about his or her topic as almost anyone on earth—and in the process will have learned important, even life-changing lessons about the meaning of expertise, the value of dedication, and the delight of knowing something in depth.

Though Egan’s program may be radical in its effects, it is strikingly simple to implement—as a number of schools have already discovered—and with Learning in Depth as a blueprint, parents, educators, and administrators can instantly begin taking the first steps toward transforming our schools and fundamentally deepening their students’ minds.

232 pages | 4 tables | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2010

Education: Curriculum and Methodology, Pre-School, Elementary and Secondary Education


"The Learning in Depth project has brought to our students a completely new relationship to learning that has been surprising in its depth and quality. After seeing Learning in Depth at work in our school community, I know this has been a critical, missing element.  It has proven to be everything we imagined (and much more we didn’t) when we heard about Kieran Egan’s remarkable vision.”

Sheri Dunton, K-3 Teacher, Corbett Charter School

"What fun! . . . The book gave me lots of ideas. . . . Quite wonderful."

Nel Noddings, Stanford University

Table of Contents



1 The Problem

2 The Proposal

3 Objections and Responses

4 The Nature of the Topics

5 Some Operating Principles and Examples

6 Building the Portfolio

7 What Do We Do Next?


Appendix A: Foundations for Learning in Depth

Appendix B: A Brief Outline of the Learning in Depth Program


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