We can thank George Kuh and colleagues at the Association of American Colleges & Universities for initially proposing the idea of “high-impact practices” (HIPs) as exemplar components of a college student’s learning experience in the AA&U publication, High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter(2008). Kuh’s list of practices are now commonly accepted as highly beneficial for college students’ learning, and it is agreed that participation in HIPs increases students’ chances for success (see also two blog posts by Elon colleague David Buck for a more thorough explanation of Understanding HIPs Through a Theoretical Model and What Even is a HIP?). Of the eleven HIP experiences (ten practices were originally proposed with an eleventh added later), several often involve immersive learning in some capacity: undergraduate research, diversity/global learning, service learning/community-based learning, and internships. As noted by Kuh and colleagues Ken O’Donnell and Carol Geary Schneider in a follow-on article, HIPs at Ten (2017), “HIPs are developmentally powerful because they require applied, hands-on, integrative, and often collaborative learning experiences.” These requirements, and also the characteristics that David Buck eloquently describes, reflect some of the thinking that I offered in an earlier blog post on characteristics of immersive learning:

  • Degree or amount of focus afforded by an activity;
  • Time devoted to a specific task;
  • The situated nature of the activity;
  • The amount of agency and autonomy afforded to students;
  • And the continuity of the learning experience.

Within each of those four identified high-impact practices, varying levels of immersion are usually in play. Additionally, each of these practices allow students to experience learning in authentic ways:

  • undergraduate research as a modeled, proxy experience for further education through graduate school or professional research in some capacity;
  • global experiences and community-based learning as vehicles for engagement with diversity and opportunities for intercultural learning from real people in their native settings;
  • and internships as a method for students to explore future career paths and engage with practitioners in their space rather than the university’s.

In this way of thinking, the ideas of Lave and Wenger (1991), presented in their work on situated learning, seem especially significant. Through these four high-impact practices, students are able to firmly situate their disciplinary learning within authentic contexts by being active participants in real-world scenarios.

The degree to which each of these practices involve immersion may be one indication of their potential impact on student learning and success. In other words, do greater levels of immersion (longer duration, more sustained contact, greater intensity, etc.) lead to higher levels of learning? For example, community-based learning practices are sometimes divided into indirect versus direct service-learning. Indirect service-learning occurs when students work with a community partner, but most of the necessary work is performed at some distance from the partner, usually at the university.  On the other hand, direct service-learning  occurs when students actively participate or perform their work on site in contact with community members. In terms of community-engagement and related learning benefits, indirect service-learning may be a less beneficial practice.

Shifting gears slightly, it’s also possible to consider the immersive value of some high-impact practices as being an amplifier when two or more HIPs are combined. In a 1987 publication titled Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, Arthur Chickering and Zelda Gamson anticipated the work of Kuh and colleagues and the ideas that eventually became the eleven high-impact practices. The principles that Chickering and Gamson note include direct contact with students and faculty, student cooperation, active learning, the value of prompt and meaningful feedback, time on task, communicating high expectations, and respect for diversity and different ways of learning. They go on to suggest that while each of these principles is important in its own way, the combined effects multiply and amplify learning. In that same way, do the combinations of HIPs multiply and amplify the inherent learning value that each contributes individually? It seems like they would.

My experience teaching an international service-learning course would suggest that the combination of global learning and community-based learning complements and increases the pedagogical value of each individual practice. The opportunity to engage with a community in another location (domestic or abroad) can help students understand culture in its many permutations at a deeper level than study-away opportunities might on their own. Conversely, working within a community in a study-away course requires students to engage with its members for extended durations. There is no ready escape or respite from involvement with the community, because students are there for a set time period.

Similarly, do undergraduate field research experiences where students are required to explore a topic in a specific, situated environment increase the learning potential of this practice? And, does doing so extend beyond the potential disciplinary learning in and of itself to learning about adjacent concerns? Likewise, does community-based participatory research where a student engages in a research topic in partnership with a community member amplify the learning opportunities beyond what she or he might learn alone? As Kuh and colleagues note in a later publication, HIPS at Ten, “Participating in multiple HIPs has cumulative, additive effects for learning and persistence.” Although they may have been thinking mainly about students participating in more than one HIP over the duration of a four-year college experience, I wonder what they’d think about the value of a specific mashup of two or more HIPs.


Chickering, Arthur, and Zelda Gamson. 1987. “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.” AAHE Bulletin 3 (1987): 3-7.

Kuh, George. 2008. High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. Washington DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Kuh, George, Ken O’Donnell, and Carol Schneider. 2017. “HIPs at ten.” Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 49 (5): 8-16.

Lave, Jean, and Etienne Wenger. 1991. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Phillip Motley, associate professor of communication design, is the 2019-2021 Center for Engaged Learning Scholar. His CEL Scholar project focuses on immersive learning.

How to cite this post

Motley, Phillip. (2021, February). Immersion, High-Impact Practices, and the Power of Combinations [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/immersion-high-impact-practices-and-the-power-of-combinations