Key ideas

Facets of learner engagement – an overview

“Our understanding of learning has expanded at a rate that has far outpaced our conceptions of teaching. A growing appreciation for the porous boundaries between the classroom and life experience, along with the power of social learning, authentic audiences, and integrative contexts, has created not only promising changes in learning but also disruptive moments in teaching.”
Bass (2012). Disrupting ourselves: The problem of learning in higher education

The Learner Engagement toolkit uses Chickering & Gamson’s 7 Principles of Undergraduate Teaching (1987) as a starting point for thinking about engaging students in their learning.

You will find briefings that focus on each of the principles,

A further briefing considers Tutor co-operation and the value of the connected teaching team.

This set of briefings provides an overview of some of the key ideas for how teachers engage their students as learners – what Kahu (2013) identifies as the behavioural perspective. Other understandings of learner engagement are addressed in briefings on student motivation (the psychological perspective) and how we value learning together (the socio-cultural perspective).

Doing, being, becoming and belonging

Wilcock (1999) proposes that the lens of doing, being and becoming provide a useful way to think about student engagement. Developing a sense of belonging is widely discussed as being significant to effectively engage students as learners, especially where engagement creates a shared reality in which to act and construct an identity, develop a sense of the possible, and establish shared repertoires and values (Wenger, 1998).


Teachers want to know what they can actually do to engage their students. This leads to thinking about the practice of designing and planning the learning experience (UKPSF AoA1), the practice of teaching and supporting learning (UKPSF AoA2), and of establishing the learning environment (UKPSF AoA4).

The topic of learner motivation requires us to consider the role of assessment and challenge the dependency that many students and academics have on assessment for driving student engagement. The topic of constructive alignment is explained showing how the design of learning activities, learning outcomes and assessment tasks work together. Constructive alignment is further explored in Assessment Essentials.


Academics in their pastoral role as tutors and academic advisers need to understand what it means to be a student and this is addressed mostly in the Academic Advising toolkit.


Student belonging is also a key theme in the Learner Engagement toolkit especially where this connects to a student’s experience of the curriculum. The theme is also central to ideas covered in the Spaces for Learning toolkit and ideas of ‘zoning spaces’ and the role of adjacent spaces and learning hubs.


Becoming and the way students are engaged in and out of the classroom affects their sense of self and how their aspirations develop through their course. Authentic learning (Herrington, 2009) provides a useful lens for thinking about this here and also in the Applied Learning toolkit in relation to employability.

In conclusion

While the teacher will never be solely responsible for a student’s engagement with learning, the materials in this section focus on how the academic can influence the learner’s experience, their success and retention.


Bass, R. (2012). Disrupting ourselves: The problem of learning in higher education. EDUCAUSE Review, March-April, pp. 23 – 33.

Chickering, A. W. & Gamson, Z. F., eds. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin: March: 3-7.

Kahu, E.R. (2013). Framing student engagement in higher education, Studies in Higher Education, 38(5), 758-773.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge University Press.

Wilcock, A. (1999). Reflections on doing, being and becoming. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 46(1), 1—11.