There is a natural propensity to use previously formed concepts before developing new ones. It must be appreciated, therefore, that students will try to use the least amount of effort and intellectual energy to complete assignments. This can lead to strategic learning, that is, they fall back on adoptive learning approaches. The development of strategies that can be used for a series of assignments demonstrates the students' ability to recognise a common form in such assignments, even deep and complex problems or issues. This is sometimes displayed by surface or superficial problem based learning courses (Boud, 1988). It is not being implied that this form of learning (or indeed either learning form, adoptive or adaptive) is inherently a degenerate form of learning. The point is that if the form of assignments is familiar, then the students do not need to use higher order thinking. The emphasis for adaptive learning is that the form of assignment, and therefore response, is not explicit and familiar. It is then that the student has to use adaptive learning, i.e. create structure where there is none apparent. For this reason, the motivation to make use of higher order thinking skills is greatly influenced by the familiarity of the assignment scenario and will determine the type of intellectual processes engaged in by the student. In order to engage students in higher level learning, assignments must therefore provide novel and open scenarios that require new ways of looking at a concept or new concepts to form in the students' minds. Within course assignments, students' own perceptions, interpretations and ideas would require supportive evidence and be clearly argued and justified. This indeed is the nature of research.
However, many students are unsure or unaware which skills and abilities are called for, and valued in assignments. Assessment methods, marking systems and feedback to students should make transparent the criteria for assessing and rewarding the level of achievement of specific learning outcomes. For example, in an assignment based upon an essay format of "discuss" or "compare", the grade may be weighted to reflect the importance of a student's own ideas, or reasoning skills, presentation of established subject knowledge or ability to undertake specific techniques. When learning outcomes are provided, such as "the ability to develop an argument" are used, the students benefit from some explanation or example of what this means and can more easily adopt study approaches that develop the appropriate learning processes required and thus attract good marks.