by Phillip Motley
My previous two blog posts on immersive learning have touched on experiences that I am directly involved with at Elon University. While I feel strongly that both approaches to teaching and learning are clear examples of immersive learning, I also don’t believe that either approach fully captures the richness of experiences that could be considered immersive. In this post, I’d like to explore what some recently acquired collaborators who teach at other institutions are doing in terms of immersive learning.

At this year’s annual conference of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) in Atlanta, GA, I had the pleasure of working with a handful of colleagues from the US and Canada on attempting to define a range of experiences that fit within the bookends of immersive learning. These six academics responded to an email I sent to ISSOTL’s listserv that asked for collaborators in this endeavor. Our initial steps were to develop a short set of questions about our experiences with immersive learning as a means of defining what we ourselves are doing and/or our observations of what other colleagues are doing in this area. This information was useful as we built a presentation for the ISSOTL conference that represented our first stab at developing a typology of immersive learning. In addition to working with these new colleagues on the ISSOTL presentation, we were able to add an additional member to our team, a faculty member from Australia who attended our session and who has extensive experience with work integrated learning.

Our small group of eight collaborators have concluded at this point that immersive learning isn’t one pedagogy or intervention; instead, it represents a wide range of approaches to teaching and learning that share certain characteristics such as direct engagement with impacted communities, practice and application of disciplinary knowledge by inhabiting professional roles, or chances to work and learn in authentic environments. One important characteristic that we’ve come to agree on is that it’s difficult to define immersive learning as a singular, explicit approach or intervention; however, it does seem possible to map immersive pedagogies along several continua that describe specific aspects of what it means for a teaching/learning strategy to be immersive. While we are still quantifying what those continua are some likely candidates might be the amount of time students spend on a specific task or within a certain learning environment, the location of the learning environment relative to the home institution where students do most of their coursework, or the amounts of autonomy and agency students are afforded in these experiences

By way of example, here are brief descriptions of my collaborators and the types of immersive learning activities they are involved with at their respective institutions:

Jennifer Dobbs-Oates is an associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Purdue University. She co-directs her departments Capstone Internship Program. The program provides students with an immersive and applied learning experience and develops students in three areas: knowledge of the field, skills in social services, and professional behavior. 

Rosemary Tyrrelll is the Director of Faculty Development at the University of California Riverside School of Medicine. She is involved with the Longitudinal Ambulatory Care Experience (LACE) program, which is designed to act as a transition between classroom-based learning and clinical applications through community-based, hands-on learning experiences.

Catharine Dishke is the Director for the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia. She previously taught at Huron University College in Ontario where she was involved with several short-term mobility courses that combine classroom-based learning with either (or both) a study away/abroad or service-learning component.

Michelle Eady is the Faculty Director of Work Integrated Learning and Professional Placements at the University of Wollongong in Australia. Work Integrated Learning is a national initiative that provides students with opportunities to integrate work practices situated in authentic environments with academic learning relevant to their chosen disciplines.

Janel Seeley is the Director of the Ellbogen Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Wyoming. She teaches a course on pedagogy and college teaching where graduate students from a variety of programs are immersed in the construction of the class. The students collectively design the course syllabus. They then individually develop a specific research topic, lead a class session on the topic, and assess each other throughout the semester. Students are thus immersed in a simulation of real-world teaching.

Beth Archer-Kuhn is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary in Alberta. In her work, she facilitates Group Study Programs in the United Kingdom where her students get to experience social work in a global context. She is also involved with field-based research practicums for undergraduate and graduate students.

Heather Lewis is the Chair of Art and Design Education at Pratt Institute. She supervises student internships in public schools and community settings and also teaches immersive, community-based courses.  As chair, she leads ongoing assessment of field-based student-teaching fieldwork and practicum experiences as part of program quality improvement. 

My seven collaborators and I have identified a wide range of immersive learning experiences that we are involved with. Our short-term goal is to collect and catalogue the variety and richness of experiences that other faculty and staff in higher education are involved with so that we can expand our growing list of what is—and also what isn’t—an immersive learning experience. Longer term, we hope to develop a typology of immersive learning that can be used to define or design interventions that have the best chance of impacting students in the moment, and provide them with valuable learning as they move through their education and onward into their careers.

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. 2019, December 10. Immersive learning at ISSOTL. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from