The Center’s Focus on Engaged Learning
Engaged learning indicates that students have opportunities to engage deeply in their own learning, to practice the transfer or application of knowledge across contexts (whether among courses or between courses and off-campus contexts), to interact with other perspectives and voices, to receive frequent feedback about their performance, and to reflect on both that feedback and their learning.
While existing research identifies high-impact pedagogies that facilitate engaged learning – study abroad, undergraduate research, internships, service-learning, writing-intensive courses, living-learning communities, and so on – higher education needs to know more about these practices (and others like them) and how they foster engaged learning across institution types and student groups.
The Center for Engaged Learning fosters investigations of (1) how to do “high-impact” engaged learning practices well, (2) how to scale these practices to many students, and (3) how students integrate their learning across multiple high impact experiences.
Understandings of Engaged Learning in Higher Education
The Center’s understanding of engaged learning is informed by complementary work by others, although “engaged learning” has not been consistently defined in prior scholarship.
In his 2013 book, Engaged Learning in the Academy: Challenges and Possibilities, David Thornton Moore writes that effective engaged learning pedagogies:
“induce the learner to look carefully at her experience, to question her own assumptions, to place the experience in relation to larger institutional and societal processes and discourses, to hear others’ voices, to grapple with the question of why things happen the way they do, to imagine how things might be different, to read her experience in terms given by major social theories and to critique those theories from the perspective of her experience – to engage, in other words, in serious critical thinking.” (2013, pp. 201-202)
Moore also argues that – although experiential learning has the potential to be transformative for students and for university campuses – he believes these pedagogies should only be practiced if institutions make a “real commitment” to them. Moore suggests that a “real commitment” is difficult to achieve; for instance, while admissions materials often tout engaged learning, university mission statements and curricula too often fail to reflect that commitment.
Moore’s description echoes another widely referenced work on engaged learning – George Kuh’s discussion of high impact educational practices:
“High-impact activities… Demand that students devote considerable time and effort to purposeful tasks… Put students in circumstances that essentially demand they interact with faculty and peers about substantive matters, typically over extended periods of time… Increase the likelihood that students will experience diversity through contact with people who are different from themselves… [Often lead to structures in which] Students typically get frequent feedback about their performance… Provide opportunities for students to see how what they are learning works in different settings, on and off campus… [and] Can be life changing…
“Such an undergraduate experience deepens learning and one’s values and beliefs into awareness; it helps students develop the ability to take the measure of events and actions and put them in perspective. As a result, students better understand themselves in relation to others and the larger world, and they acquire the intellectual tools and ethical grounding to act with confidence for the betterment of the human condition.” (Kuh, 2008, pp. 14-17)
Both of these understandings of engaged learning practices emphasize the roles of metacognitive reflection and integration. It’s not enough to simply participate in study abroad, an internship, a learning community, etc.; students must have opportunities to think about what they are learning and to connect their new knowledge and experiences to prior knowledge and broader societal contexts.
This section of the Center’s website synthesizes what higher education knows about engaged learning and shares related resources for faculty and faculty developers on high-impact practices for engaged learning.