Levers to Deeper Learning

The BIF Student Experience Lab is partnering with the Hewlett Foundation to explore barriers and enablers to deeper learning practices in public high schools. Students in deeper learning environments are developing cognitive, interpersonal, and intrapersonal competencies essential to their success as citizens and scholars. However, too much of the conversation around deeper learning remains with a small number of educators who have access and ability to implement these approaches. If deeper learning approaches are going to spread, there must be intentional methods for sharing practices and communicating with a greater majority of educators. In order to reach this majority, these practices must be accessible, desirable, and popular among broader audiences of educators.

Design Challenge

What are the barriers and enablers faced by public school educators when attempting to deepen learning for their students? How can we use those insights to make strategic decisions and dedicate efforts to increase deeper learning for students throughout the country?

Over the past few decades, we have seen a vanguard of individual educators, schools, and school networks, developing pedagogical approaches that enable a deeper kind of learning for their students. Graduates of these schools are better prepared for the challenges they will face in postsecondary education, careers, and society. This is promising, but achieving the Hewlett Foundation's goal of having 80% of students in the United States benefit from deeper learning by 2025 will require broad and rapid spread of these practices.


In order to explore the challenges and opportunities of deepening student learning in traditional school settings, we conducted dozens of interviews with school based educators across Rhode Island to explore their experiences in bringing deeper learning competencies to their students. We spoke with teachers, education leaders, and administrators in rural, suburban, and urban public high schools across the state. By analyzing data and identifying patterns we developed a preliminary set of insights on the major factors blocking deeper learning practices in public schools, and conditions that enable deeper learning in public school environments. From these insights, we have developed Levers2Learn, a web-based research report, to share findings on barriers to and enablers of deeper learning and to share strategies for increasing deeper learning in all settings. Utilizing these findings, we facilitated a participatory design studio that engaged a cohort of public school educators in designing a plan to develop, test, and share best practices for deepening student learning across a district.

Impact Statement

We want to see a shift from “deeper learning” being a term defined and exemplified by an elite cadre of innovators and early adopters to seeing it used as a phrase to describe a shift in schools across this country. Upon completion of our work, we hope to see the following three sentences in the mainstream media: “Teachers and school leaders are not waiting. They are changing their schools to provide students with deeper learning experiences. In urban, suburban, and rural communities; in elementary, middle, and high schools; educators are finding novel ways of teaching their students core academic content by challenging them to collaboratively solve increasingly complex problems.”