Center for Engaged Learning

Preparing students through real-world experience, exploration and reflection

What is Engaged Learning?

What is engaged learning?

Students apply their knowledge to expand and deepen their skillset by participating in concrete experiences, either inside or outside of the classroom, which require reflection, perspective taking, critical thinking, and active exploration.

Why is engaged learning important?

Students who participate in engaged learning are more likely to persist towards graduation and have a better understanding and application of course material *

“Students who participated in internships or career experiences, study abroad, research with a faculty member, or a community-based project were significantly more likely to complete a college degree than students who did not participate in these activities.” *
Students gain:
  • A better understanding and application of course material
  • Insight into skills, interests, passions, and values
  • Broader view of the world; appreciation of community and diversity
  • Translatable career skills
  • Civic engagement
  • Self-confidence and leadership skills

What does engaged learning look like?

Examples of engaged learning include:

•Internships & Cooperative Learning

•Student teaching

•Project-based learning


•International Service Learning


•Capstone projects

  • Traditional “Laboratory” Course: The topic and methods are instructor defined. There are clear “cookbook” directions and a predetermined outcome that is usually known to students and to the instructor.
  • Inquiry-based “Laboratory” Course: Students participate in the cognitive and behavioral practices that are commonly performed by scholars in the field. Typically, the outcome is unknown to students, and they may be challenged to generate their own methods and background research. The goal of the inquiry is to challenge the students rather than contribute to a larger body of knowledge.
  • Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE): Students address a research question or problem that is of interest to the discipline, or local community, with an outcome that is unknown both to the students and to the instructor.
  • Research Internship: A single student is mentored by a senior researcher (graduate student, post-doctoral fellow or faculty member) in a research project. The goal is to provide the student with an independent project which they will be responsible for carrying out.
  • Involves a community experience or project with an external partner that applies knowledge and integrates theory and practice
  • Course includes service (direct service, research, or practice) with the community (local, state, national or international) based on course content
  • Course includes learning objectives related to the application of disciplinary/course concepts to community activities
  • There is a mutual benefit to the community partner and the student


Faculty who incorporate engaged learning activities in their courses or who are supporting student involvement in engaged learning can encourage students to participate in the CARDS EXCEL program. CARDS EXCEL has students complete reflections on at least two engaged learning experiences in order to be eligible to receive cords for graduation. Faculty can support the CARDS EXCEL program in a variety of ways, including:

  • Post an announcement about the program on your class syllabus, on your Blackboard page, or make an announcement in class
  • Invite a member of the CEL team to come and speak to your class or student organization about the program
  • Include a reflection element in your course to provide students with the opportunity to think about the skills and knowledge they gained through participating in your engaged learning activities. This will be helpful as they complete the CARDS EXCEL reflection form for that experience.


Reflection is a critical component of engaged learning, linking student experiences to learning outcomes, enhancing academic understanding and increasing awareness of how their work impacts the community. The benefits of students taking the time to reflect on engaged learning experiences include:

  • Links academic knowledge to real world experiences through transfer of learning
  • Challenges students to assign meaning to their engaged learning experiences
  • Understand and be able to communicate specific skills and experiences which can be useful for resumes, applications, and interviews for jobs and further educational opportunities

Engaged Learning Course Collection

The CEL is building a list of courses that include engaged learning to share with students. If your course includes engaged learning, contact and include your course name and syllabus.

*Valentine, J., Price, D., & Yang, H. (2021). High-Impact Practices and Gains in Student Learning: Evidence from Georgia, Montana, and Wisconsin. Lumina Issue Paper. In Lumina Foundation; McDaniel, A., & Van Jura, M. (2022). High-Impact Practices: Evaluating Their Effect on College Completion. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 24(3), 740–757.