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LiD – A Personal Journey: Discovering the Power of a Big Idea


My initial reaction to Kieran Egan discussing Learning in Depth (in 2008–before his book was published) was one of skepticism. As he talked, I thought only of the many reasons it wouldn’t work for me – a primary, multi-age, public school teacher of 30+ years…

  • One topic for a school lifetime? Sure, maybe for a year–or in the case of my class (a multi-age primary class) maybe three years, but who would carry it forward?
  • A simple idea? Really? I’d only been given a rough sketch of LiD – an outline – surely this was not enough to launch an entire program, was it?
  • The biggest objection was the lack of implementation procedures (at that time), meaning anyone crazy enough to take on this “big idea” would need methods of supplies, data, and methods of organization – all of which would have to be collected through trial & error.
  • I’d need A LOT of help – help from administration and colleagues – would need to enroll them in what I was doing…this would take time, and who had the time to spare?
  • Furthermore, what was this about “topics” being selected “at random?” Shouldn’t students be given the choice? How else could they be expected to play? And keep playing for the entire duration of their school lifetime? 
  • With that, I decided LiD would never work – there were simply too many unanswered objections – kinks to be worked out, variables to be resolved – an idea too big to grow wings and fly…

    A number of weeks later I caught myself mulling over the idea of one topic for one student. I couldn’t shake the sheer simplicity, and uniqueness of Kieran’s model. For the sake of curiosity, I removed thought I’d try a little experiment: I brought my students clearly into my mind…once seated, I removed my objections, and considered the model again, this time focusing only on the benefits. Imagine…‘one topic per student for their entire school life’ this prior objection was suddenly full of possibilties…


I had found no satisfactory means or method of encouraging my students to go beyond the surface of projects. Students would answer simple questions, complete project outlines and even present projects they had researched, but once the project was done, students moved onto the next project. Encouraging the students to extend their projects or view the project from another perspective brought resistance. Students took pride in the number of projects they completed rather than the project itself and the ultimate goal of accomplishing as many ‘project studies’ as possible overwhelmed any attempts I made to extend their work in any one project. The fact that the students couldn’t tell very much about what they were studying or show any passion for the knowledge they presented had me decide to abandon the project drawer I so painstakingly created. Sadly, I can honestly say that I was learning more from the process of creating and compiling their projects than my students did in completing them.

As my first year LiD Journal shows, I created a highly organized, time-lined and ambitious, eight-month LiD plan. Implementing LiD looked good on paper; however; as it is with all implementations, complications arose.

You need to remember that I had only heard Kieran Egan speak about LiD twice. My plan was erected upon hearing LiD described on these two occasions. I put my memory to the test and I came up with what I believed were the parameters of Kieran’s Learning in Depth. It was a year later when Kieran was kind enough to send me a draft of his book, Learning in Depth, where I discovered I wasn’t too far off the LiD mark. I will speak about that later in the book, so for now the list I compiled on LiD looked like this…

  • Not graded
  • One topic for one student per class (expert on topic)
  • Topics are picked randomly
  • Topics were criteria specific
  • One topic for one student for school life (no end – no rush)
  • Students share what they learn
  • Students have portfolios that move with them (including home)
  • Parents play a huge role, so include them
  • Most of LiD work will be done outside of class time
  • One hour of LiD time a week provided in school
  • Teacher is a guide / supervisor

Armed with what I knew, I created my LiD plan that is outlined in my LiD Journal. In the summer of 2008 I emptied my project drawer and set about bringing LiD to my class because I wanted students to take pride in knowing something in depth.

Moving from Project Based Learning to Learning in Depth

Most classes, in schools or at home provide students (usually grade 3 and up) with the opportunity to work in some variation of a project format. The purpose of the project format is to give students the opportunity to create, study and present in different mediums and to give students a variation from everyday assigned work parameters. Projects are often in the form of posters, essays, PowerPoint presentations, various art mediums, etc. A topic is given, which the student will then follow a set criteria to show knowledge of the topic, a degree of understanding and then receive a grade for the end result.

The project drawer in my class ended up full of project formats and designs that could be used for a wide range of topics. To my dismay, these formats never encouraged students to go beyond the parameters specified. Instead of delving deeper into projects, my students filled in / completed project, after project. Don’t get me wrong, the children enjoyed doing the projects and would share their learning with the class but once done, they literally closed the book on that topic and moved onto the next. When encouraging the children to go beyond the requirements, students told me they had “done” the project, end of story. Even with encouragement from myself, students would not refer to completed projects because they believed the projects were done, the topic were complete in themself.

In point of fact, my students took great pride in how many projects topics they completed but could not remember much of what they had learned. The end result was my students covered a vast array of topics with little knowledge and no real understanding of each topic.

When I am asked why I encourage teachers, parents and students to do LiD, I can honestly say I love LiD as a vehicle to discover how knowledge and knowing are inter-related, full of perspective which helps people make meaning of what they are learning and of the world around them.

LiD allows students to focus on one topic for an extended period of time, their full school career. Each student develops over time an expertise in his or her topic area. Students are given approximately one hour a week to create, with no pressure to quantify or qualify their work. The students are asked to share their learning on a regular basis through group discussions, presentations, and displays.

The teacher’s role in LiD is one of being a guide and supervisor, helping students take responsibility for their TOPICS and encouraging cooperation and collaboration. LiD is one of our favorite times in school.

Learning in Depth, LiD is a simple idea… one student “cosmically” receives a topic which they will study for their school career. Ah, no pressure to know everything right away! There is no grading and the teacher is available as a guide/supervisor, and as there is no end to the topic study, student’s present/share what they have done/have learned/created to date. Students are encouraged to help one another, to cooperate and collaborate. Each student has a portfolio and collections box housed in the class. The portfolios and boxes are often transported between school and home. Parents play an important role in LiD, encouraging their children just by listening to them, asking questions or going on relevant field trips.


With the help of our marvelous librarian-teacher, Lydia, we had many of our 45-60 minute LiD classes in the library. With two adults helping during LiD, Lydia our library expert and myself were busy guiding students to what they were looking for. Our first efforts were in collecting and thankfully our school had National Geographic magazines we could search and cut up for collections.

Linda Holmes - Learning in Depth - Engaging Young Minds
Learning in Depth - Students becoming Experts