What is High Impact Learning?

This April, IU South Bend Bend’s International Programs Chair, Dr. Lisa Zwicker, intern Brigitta Szocs, and I participated in the 2014 Midwest Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Conference. During the conference we briefly discussed how our research showed that study abroad is a high impact educational practice and presented some of the findings. Upon reflection, I felt that some of my research could and should be discussed further. I decided to write a three blog post series of my reflections on the material that I presented at the Midwest SoTL Conference, including more detailed information and clarifications.

This is the first blog post in the series, What is High Impact Learning?


High impact learning occurs when students actively engage in the learning process and utilize their knowledge in their personal and professional lives. Former IU Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus George D. Kuh defines high impact educational practices as “an investment of time and energy over an extended period that has unusually positive effects on student engagement in educationally purposeful behavior.”1 Typically, students who participate in high impact practices are more focused learners, have higher information retention rates, and finish their degrees quicker with a higher GPA. One of the benefits of high impact learning is the collaborative effort where students are actively engaged in a community of peers, applying new knowledge with real-life application. The Association of American Colleges and Universities, utilizing the work of Kuh, outlines several educational experiences that can be employed as high impact educational practice:

  • First-year Seminars and Experiences
  • Common intellectual experiences
  • Learning communities
  • Writing-intensive courses
  • Collaborative assignments and projects
  • Undergraduate research
  • Service and Community-based learning
  • Internships
  • Capstone courses and projects
  • Diversity/global learning

According to Kuh, there are six common elements that, when employed to the educational practices above, will make them high impact education practices:

  • Requires effort – Considerable effort must be expended by the student to invest in the activity and their academic program.
  • Requires building of substantive interactions – Students must actively interact with faculty and peers about substantive matters over an extended period of time fostering a pupil/mentor relationship.
  • Requires engagement across differences – Students interact with people outside their immediate peers, including people with different economic, religious, and numerous other backgrounds.
  • Requires strong and frequent feedback – Frequent and constructive feedback by peers and mentors. “Good job!” is not enough, students need explanations for what they are doing right just as much as what they are doing wrong.
  • Requires students to both test and apply what they are learning in new situations – Students learn to integrate and synthesize knowledge across the curriculum and understand their connections.
  • Provides opportunity for personal reflection – One of the most important elements, but often overlooked. According to Kuh, personal reflection expands learning and “bring one’s values and beliefs into awareness” and allows students to “measure of events and actions and put them in perspective.” Consequently, “[S]tudents better understand themselves in relation to others and the larger world, and they acquire the intellectual tools and ethical grounding to act with confidence for the betterment of the human condition.”2

Thus, when high impact educational practices are implemented in a university, students perform better, respect cultural differences and diversity, graduate quicker and with higher GPA’s, and maybe most importantly, they become better world citizens. So with this in mind, is study abroad a high impact educational practice? I’ll answer that question in my post next week.


1 George D. Kuh, “Foreword,” Five High-Impact Practices:  Research on Learning Outcomes, Completion, and Quality by Jayne E. Brownell and Lynn E. Swaner, AAC&U, 2010.

2 Thomas F. Nelson Laird, Daniel Chen, George D. Kuh,”Classroom Practices at Institutions With Higher-Than-Expected Persistence Rates: What Student Engagement Data Tell Us” New Directions For Teaching & Learning 2008.115 (2008): 85-99, 96.


2 thoughts on “What is High Impact Learning?

  1. Pingback: Study Abroad: A High Impact Educational Practice | International Programs

  2. Pingback: Study Abroad: Holistic Learning | International Programs

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