Throughout college, students are often told they should pursue opportunities such as internships or undergraduate research, but they sometimes have trouble understanding why. Students might be surprised to discover just how impactful such experiences can be. Here are six benefits that can begin to explain why engaged learning is beneficial to students.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers has identified a set of competencies associated with career readiness. Engaged learning produces several of these skills, benefiting students beyond graduation and into the workforce. It does this by developing students' critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, communication, and intercultural fluency—all skills that employers want.
Jerry Daday, executive director of the Institute for Engaged Learning, explained how these competencies prepare students for a variety of paths after graduation. "We're not just talking about getting a job, when you're exchanging your labor for a wage," Daday said. "Let's say you want to work in a nonprofit, or you want to do some work in a civil society; these are the same competencies that people are looking for."
Engaged learning produces career competencies such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, communication, and intercultural fluency.
Motivation and self-efficacy
Engaged learning gives students the freedom to explore the ideas that interest them. By having hands-on experiences that are relevant and stimulating, students can develop a natural desire to learn. Opportunities such as research and service learning encourage active participation from students, allowing them to be the orchestrators of their education.
Student retention and graduation
When students are motivated and empowered through engaged learning, retention and graduation rates improve. According to the Procedia Journal of Social and Behavioral Science, students who apply engaged learning are substantially more likely to earn a bachelor's degree than those who do not apply engaged learning. Additionally, students who pursue hands-on educational opportunities report being more satisfied with their college experience.
First-generation students, underrepresented minorities, and low-income students face additional challenges in succeeding and obtaining a college degree, but engaged learning can help reduce these issues and promote equity.
Daday spoke about how engaged learning, also referred to as high-impact educational practices, can narrow the privilege disparity among college students. "High-impact practices promote equity in that when students participate from a diversity of backgrounds, we see the graduation rates across groups become more equal or similar," he said.
In addition to having educational and professional benefits, engaged learning encourages lifelong learning. It does this by prompting students to reflect on experiences, understand their relevance, and build communities that further education. For example, a student completing an internship course may develop skills relevant to their field of interest, submit progress reports to reflect on their growth, and create relationships with supervisors and co-workers who can provide career advice and support. When students have these rich learning experiences, they see the value in them and continue to seek future opportunities for learning.
Perhaps one of the greatest advantages of engaged learning is that it helps students grow into well-rounded individuals. Students who engage in active learning demonstrate increases in social, racial, and ethnic tolerance. They also experience improved cognitive and emotional health and are better able to handle new challenges.
These long-term benefits show that engaged learning is more than just memorizing facts and figures. It's about creating thoughtful students whose curiosity drives them to act. Engaged students use their education to answer the hard questions, meet needs in their communities, and build a better future for everyone.
Inspired to get engaged? Whether you are an IUPUI student wanting to pursue engaged learning or a faculty member looking to incorporate hands-on experiences into your class, the Institute for Engaged Learning can provide resources and support. By connecting you to service organizations, helping you develop a research project, creating opportunities for study abroad, and more, the Institute for Engaged Learning can help make your goals a reality.
Check out last month’s article from this three-part series to learn about the many engaged learning opportunities available through the Institute for Engaged Learning.
Miller, R. L., Rycek, R. F., & Fritson, K. (2011). The effects of high impact learning experiences on student engagement. Procedia–Social and Behavioral Sciences, 15, 53-59. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.03.050