Locating a clear and obvious body of literature that names, describes, and defines immersion as a pedagogy has been challenging. Immersion is only occasionally mentioned explicitly in many sources and often only in a handful of areas of higher education such as international and global education, community-based learning, world languages instruction, or work-integrated learning. More often, however, the ideas that support ways of thinking about immersion as a pedagogy and practice are findable, but do not necessarily use immersion as a specific term. Proxy terms such as situated learning or experiential learning have been helpful, but still only go so far. Situated learning maps well to authentic experiences in which students have opportunities to practice skills and apply knowledge relative to a discipline within a context that is specifically relevant: for example, a professional internship where a student gets to work and learn in a mentored environment that approximates what a job or career in that field might actually resemble. Literature on situated learning, therefore, is clearly valuable to my exploration of immersive learning, but mainly vis-a-vis the authentic engagement aspect of those practices. Experiential learning literature, on the other hand, is clearly useful as it serves as an overview and background for a wide range of engaged learning practices, of which immersive learning might be included. To that end, the experiential learning literature is helpful as a backbone to my research but doesn’t always reach the specific depths that I need.

To some extent, it’s been easier to use the component parts of my working definition of immersive learning as a way of identifying potentially valuable literature. Thinking about the possible constituent parts of immersive learning as a distinct pedagogy has enabled me to drill down into literature germane to those areas. For example, considering the amount of student agency and autonomy a particular practice affords students maps well to literature on the benefits of and challenges to varying levels of student control and input over their own learning (see Levesque et al. 2004; Pym and Kapp 2013). Thinking about time dimensions of immersive learning and the idea that more time on task and enhanced continuity of a learning experience might both be characteristics of immersive learning leads to research by Karweit (1984, 1988) and Park (2017) and also Berliner (1990).

It also leads to specific practices such as study away and community-based learning where students have to confront potentially dissonant phenomena and make independent decisions about how to negotiate those circumstances (see Hoskins 2013; Damianakis et al. 2019). Thinking about how much focus and time a student is given for a specific learning task leads to explorations of block curricula and the ways such structures potentially provide extended amounts of both. In this sense, literature describing structural innovations at university and also K-12 levels have been valuable (see Rettig and Canady 1996; Soares 1998). And, while there is a small but significant body of literature on situated learning, most notably produced by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (Lave and Wenger 1991; Lave 1991; Lave 2019), explorations in this area naturally lead to literature on authentic learning experiences and how students benefit from challenges that are presented by practices such as service-learning, internships, practicums, and other work-integrated learning experiences such as those that are inherent components of programs like teacher education (see Wolfson and Willinsky 1998; Carrell 2007; Kaider et al. 2017).

Another distinct challenge is that as a term, immersion, like other words in the lexicon of higher education including “design” and “portfolio,” holds more than one meaning. In the case of immersion, it’s probably more accurate to say what disciplines lay claim to the term. Broadly speaking, two camps use the term as a way to describe pedagogies and practices. The first is related to the work that I am doing with my CEL Scholar project and is very much focused on real-world, face-to-face education for the most part. The second relates mainly to digital experiences—the most obvious being virtual and augmented reality. Immersive Learning: Designing for Authentic Practice (Pagano 2014) is a great example. By just reading the title, you might believe that this book would be right down the middle of what I need; it uses the idea of authenticity to support immersive learning and might therefore make you think that this is about hands-on, real-world practices. However, this book is focused on digitally mediated, virtual experiences, which I would suggest are anything but authentic (but that’s just my opinion). To be clear, this book isn’t without relevance to my research as the introductory chapters focus on what constitutes an authentic learning environment including realism, achievement, and presence—all characteristics that apply to real-world scenarios. However, it focuses on creating authentic technology-based learning experiences rather than finding them where they already exist, which is more in line with the purposes of my research.

Moving forward, the other distinct challenge is deciding what bookends to erect that still encapsulate the relevant literature needed to define and describe immersive learning pedagogies. Like many areas of higher education research, especially when the focus is on a particular pedagogy, the potential for exploratory drift is high. Establishing a containing perimeter eventually starts to feel like a necessity.


Berliner, David C. 1990. “What’s All the Fuss about Instructional Time?” In The Nature of Time in Schools: Theoretical Concepts, Practitioner Perceptions, edited by Miriam Ben-Peretz and Rainer Bromme. Teachers College Press.

Carrell, Lori. 2007. “A Scholarly Teaching Adventure…” International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 1 (2): 1-12.

Damianakis, Thecla, Betty Barrett, Beth Archer-Kuhn, Patricia L. Samson, Sumaiya Matin, and Christine Ahern. 2019. “Transformative Learning in Graduate Education: Masters of Social Work Students’ Experiences of Personal and Professional Learning.” Studies in Higher Education 45 (9): 2011-2029.

Hoskins, Barbara J. 2013. “Is Distance Learning Transformational?” Journal of Continuing Higher Education 61 (1): 62-63.

Kaider, Friederika, Rachael Hains-Wesson, and Karen Young. 2017. “Practical Typology of Authentic Work-Integrated Learning Activities and Assessments.” Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education 18(2): 153-165.

Karweit, Nancy. 1984. “Time-on-Task Reconsidered: Synthesis of Research on Time and Learning.” Educational Leadership 41 (8): 32-35.

Karweit, Nancy. 1988. “Time-on-Task: The Second Time Around.” NASSP Bulletin 72 (505): 31-39.

Lave, Jean. 1991. “Situating Learning in Communities of Practice.” In Perspectives on Socially Shared Cognition, edited by Lauren B. Resnick, John M. Levine, Stephanie D. Teasley. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Lave, Jean. 2019. Learning and Everyday Life. Cambridge University Press.

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

Levesque, Chantal, A. Nicola Zuehlke, Layla R. Stanek, and Richard M. Ryan. 2004. “Autonomy and Competence in German and American University Students: A Comparative Study Based on Self-Determination Theory.” Journal of Educational Psychology 96 (1): 68-84.

Pagano, Koreen Olbrish. 2014. Immersive Learning: Designing for Authentic Practice. American Society for Training & Development (ASTD).

Park, Sanghoon. 2017. “Analysis of Time-on-Task, Behavior Experiences, and Performance in Two Online Courses with Different Authentic Learning Tasks.” International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 18 (2): 213-233.

Pym, June, and Rochelle Kapp. 2013. “Harnessing Agency: Towards a Learning Model for Undergraduate Students.” Studies in Higher Education 38 (2): 272-284.

Rettig, Michael D., and Robert Lynn Canady. 1996. “All Around the Block: The Benefits and Challenges of a Non-traditional School Schedule.” School Administrator 53 (8): 8–14.

Soares, Louise M. 1998. “Structure, Content, and Process in Teacher Training: The Relevance of Copernicus, Gardner, and Dewey.” The Clearing House 71 (4): 217-220.

Wolfson, Larry, and John Willinsky. 1998. “What Service-Learning Can Learn from Situated Learning.” Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 5:  22-31.

Phillip Motley, Associate Professor of Communication Design, is the 2019-2021 Center for Engaged Learning Scholar. His CEL scholar project focuses on immersive learning experiences.

How to Cite this Post

Motley, Phillip. (2021, August ). “The Challenge of Locating Literature on Immersive Pedagogies” [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/the-challenge-of-locating-literature-on-immersive-pedagogies.