Engaged Learning is the process where students apply the theory learned at Higher Education Institutions to a context outside of HEI by addressing societal concerns, challenges or needs while producing knowledge in an equitable, mutually beneficial partnership.
Drivers of Engaged Learning vary. Globally, there is renewed impetus in the “third mission” and social responsibility across higher education. However, lack of formal national networks for this pedagogy, has meant that Engaged Learning has yet to become embedded across curricula. Engaged Learning initiatives in most countries are most often instigated by individual academics, while some larger models offering an Engaged Learning approach have emerged through participation in national, or internationally funded projects.
Engaged Learning initiatives vary in structure and approach, as well as size and the availability of resources. The initiatives sit within a diverse range of university disciplines, and tackle an array of societal challenges, ranging from inclusive education, urban gardening and legal clinics to the integration of asylum seekers.
Engaged Learning has evolved from Service-Learning, which originated in the USA towards the end of the 1960s as a form of student volunteer work, and was itself, based on the model of experiential learning. However, where Service-Learning is defined as being course-based and credit bearing, we have adopted the term Engaged Learning as a broader, more inclusive term for the pedagogical approach that enables students to derive learning from meaningful community engagement whilst working on real world problems. As such, Engaged Learning may include either curriculum-based or optional, one-off initiatives, which may, or may not, be credit bearing.
The benefits of the Engaged Learning approach are well documented. Reciprocity is a fundamental feature of all the initiatives. Students gain an enriched education which provides them with new competencies and prepares them for their future career, while increasing their sense of civic responsibility. Many initiatives also enable students to produce an impactful dissertation or thesis that provides useful knowledge or evidence to the community or partner with whom they engage. The contribution to society can range hugely from the inception of a helpful idea to an on-going collaborative project that yields multiple benefits to wider society. However, no matter the scale of the initiative, the act of engagement, collaboration, and / or participatory action can help break down the traditional teacher-student hierarchies and encourage student-led learning and innovation that can benefit all partners.
Engaged Learning across Europe is wide ranging and very diverse. Mutual and beneficial partnership among universities, students, and communities can be incorporated into a wide range of disciplines with an even wider range of benefits and/or services provided to the communities in which they are situated, or beyond.