Pedagogy of Learning in Depth

Integrating the modality of learning in depth to balance four modes of deep learning

Mythic : Romantic : Philosophic : Ironic

How Learning in Depth provides learning-centred Integrative balance

  1. integrative balance between deeper kinds of understanding that frame learning: mythic, romantic, philosophic, ironic

  2. integrative balance between the cognitive tools of deep literacy utilised in learning: oral language, written language, theoretic language and reflexive language

  3. integrative balance between deep intergenerational stages of learning in child and adult development: from early years to higher education

  4. integrative balance between deeper western and non-western forms of cultural learning drawing on: emotion, imagination, cognition and ecology

Ironic Understanding

Learning  in depth through alternative explanations and multiple perspectives and using the cognitive tools of reflexive language

Approx 18-26 years plus

Learning / teaching  through the following cognitive tools:

Refined reflexiveness, taking on an ironic Socratic stance that asks provocative questions, is sceptical of meta-narratives, committed to critical inquiry and seeks to expose unexamined biases in oneself and others

Contextual interpretation, recognising that inquiry needs to be sensitive to context and involves the participatory understanding of those most affected by it

Alternative explanation, proactively generating creative alternatives to existing ideas and theories

Critical affirmation, being both self-critical and affirmative of my own position, perspective and value commitments

Taking Multiple Perspectives, recognising the relativity of diverse viewpoints and guarding against the danger of any becoming reductive (reducing all other theories to its own)

Romantic Understanding

Learning in depth through the inspiration of amazing discoveries and real-life achievements and using the cognitive tools of written language

Approx 8-15 years

Learning / teaching  through the following cognitive tools:

Exploring the Limits of Reality apart from and beyond myself, fascinated by extremes of experience, attracted to discovering what’s exotic and strange

Associating with the Heroic, gaining a better sense of reality by discovering how people and things have heroically met the challenges of life and threats to their existence

Sense of Wonder, focussing on special and unique aspects of the world around us and within ourselves, leading us into deeper inquiry (“I wonder why . . .”)

Connecting Knowledge and human meaning, going beyond the surface of any knowledge to its emotional source in human lives and making sense of the purpose of things

Changing the context, enabling the imagination to grasp the richer meaning of any topic beyond the sterile classroom e.g. through drama, learning outside the classroom etc

Philosophic Understanding

Learning in depth through abstract ideas and processes and using the cognitive tools of theoretic language

Approx 14-24 years

Learning / teaching  through the following cognitive tools:

Abstract Reality, making sense of the world by means of abstract ideas; seeking to understand and control the processes by which nature works

a Sense of Agency, enabling us to recognise ourselves in relation to the world via complex historical and social processes, causal chains and networks

Grasping General Ideas and their anomalies, enabling oneself to generate abstract ideas and theories about nature, society, history, human psychology, and then to recognise their inadequacy, and rebuild them into more complex ideas

Searching for authority and truth, recognising that it is important to determine which ideas and theories are true and so arrive at an objective view of reality based on secure knowledge

Mythic Understanding

Learning in depth through dramatic and imaginative stories and using the cognitive tools of oral language

Approx 3-9 years

Learning / teaching  through the following cognitive tools:

Story, appreciating how narrative helps make sense of information and knowledge

Metaphor, enabling us to imaginatively see one thing in terms of another

Binary opposites, exploring and organising knowledge in terms of two contrasting abstract concepts e.g. good/bad; true/false; love/hate, oppressive/emancipatory etc

Rhyme, rhythm, and pattern appreciating how they give meaningful, memorable, and attractive shape to any content

Mental Imagery, enjoying the way words activate my imagination and the way imaginary examples make learning more vivid

Modality Toolkit

The leading theorist of this modality is Kieran Egan. His four-stage cumulative theory of learning in depth eventually included a prelinguistic layer of Somatic Understanding out of which the mythic, romantic, philosophic and ironic layers all develop. The key terminology of this modality concerns kinds of understanding and cognitive tools which are re-framed in EduSynthesis as modes of learning in depth in recognition of the way the theory traces an evolution of consciousness in which the learner’s own level of cumulative development in kinds of understanding and use of cognitive tools provide the means of deeper engagement and learning across the curriculum.

Recommended Reading

First Wave: Building Theory and Practice

  • Egan, K. (1979). Educational Development. Oxford University Press, New York
  • Egan, K. (1988 ). Primary Understanding: Education in Early Childhood. Routledge, New York.
  • Egan, K. (1989) Teaching as Story Telling: An Alternative Approach to Teaching and Curriculum in the Elementary School. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  • Egan, K. (1990) Romantic Understanding: The Development of Rationality and Imagination, Ages 8-15. Routledge, New York.
  • Egan, K. (1992) Imagination in Teaching and Learning: The Middle School Years. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  • Egan, K. (1997) The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape Our Understanding. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  • Egan, K. (1999) Children’s Minds, Talking Rabbits & Clockwork Oranges: Essays on Education. Teachers College Press, New York.
  • Egan, K. (2005) An Imaginative Approach to Teaching. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.
  • Egan, K. (2006) Teaching Literacy: Engaging the Imagination of New Readers and Writers. Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, Calif.
  • Egan, K. (2008) The Future of Education: Reimaging Our Schools from the Ground Up. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.

Second Wave: Learning in Depth Community of Practice

  • Egan, K. (2010) Learning in Depth: A Simple Innovation that Can Transform Schooling. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
  • Cant, A., Egan, K. & Judson, G. (Eds.) (2013) Wonder-Full education: The centrality of wonder in teaching and learning across the curriculum. New York: Routledge.
  • Egan, K. (With Dunton, B. & Judson, G.) (2014). Whole school projects: Engaging imaginations through interdisciplinary inquiry. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.
  • Egan, K. & Judson, G. (2015). Imagination and the Engaged Learner: Cognitive Tools for the Classroom. (New York: Teachers’ College Press)
  • Egan, K., Judson, G. & Madej, K. (Eds.) (2015). Engaging imagination and developing creativity in education (2nd Ed). (Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press).

Third Wave: Ecological Education & Educational Leadership

  • Judson, G. (2010). A New approach to ecological education: Engaging students’ imaginations in their world. New York: Peter Lang.
  • Judson, G. (2015). Engaging imagination in ecological education: Practical strategies for teaching. Vancouver, BC: Pacific Educational Press.
  • Judson, G. (2018).  A walking curriculum: Evoking wonder and developing a sense of place (k-12). (KDP).
  • Judson, G. (2019). Weaving ecologies for learning: Engaging imagination in Place-based education. R. Barnett & N. Jackson (Eds.) Learning Ecologies: Sightings, Possibilities, and Emerging Practices. London: Routledge
  • Judson, G. & Dougherty, M. (Eds.) (2023). Cultivating imagination in leadership: Transforming schools and communities. Teachers’ College Press.

Questions for Synthesis


Questions for personal synthesis

How would you stack its four modes in order of relevance to your own personal philosophy of teaching?

Where would you place this modality in order of preference in the practice of Integrative Teaching (compared to meta-pedagogy, depth didactics, thinking in community and curriculum synergy.

Where would you place this modality in overall order of preference out of all sixteen modalities?

Questions for technical eclecticism

Which of the four component modes could enhance learning in your core Integrative practice?

How might this modality as a whole enhance any other modalities you are using?

Which techniques would you want to experiment with to improve your practice?

Questions for theoretical integration

What is the sixfold interplay between these four modes of practice?

What are the contrasts between the modes which make it difficult but still important to practice together?

Why is this modality essential to enhancing the other modalities of integrative teaching?

Questions for assimilative integration

How could the construction of this modality be improved?

How well does it correlate with other fields of practice not included in the EduSynthesis map?

Which missing aspects of theory might provide a better alternative in a map of your own practice?

What  are your personal preferences for imaginative teaching as an adult learner?

How you can appreciate different uses of language for educational purposes: oral language, writing, theoretic writing, reflexive writing?

How can you enhance your own academic writing in higher education?

How can you utilise imaginative teaching resources in your practice to engage learners?

How could you include all four kinds of understanding in one framework?

Teaching Exercises

How would you stack its four modes in order of relevance to your own personal philosophy of teaching?

Mentoring Exercises

Which of the four component modes could enhance learning in your core Integrative practice?

Leadership Exercises

What is the sixfold interplay between these four modes of practice?

Sustainability Exercises

How could the construction of this modality be improved?

© 2024 EduSynthesis

Centre for Mindful Educational Leadership

Tim Saunders PhD


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