Activities that Promote Deep, Lasting Learning Not Used Enough

Academically Adrift is provoking plenty of discussion throughout American higher education, and with good reason. While there are valid concerns about the methodology, instrumentation and overreaching inferences of Richard Arum’s and Josipa Roksa’s research study, many of their conclusions are important ones that have been confirmed by others.

Academically Adrift

We know—and should not even need a research study to confirm—that students learn more when they spend more time studying, practicing, reading, writing, and working on complex “messy” problems without ready solutions.

But, as Arum and Roksa point out, today’s students do less studying and homework than students did a generation ago. What’s sad is the number of faculty who expect and even encourage this, saying “My students have jobs and families, so I really can’t expect them to do much homework.” This line of reasoning is shortchanging our students. No wonder they’re not learning as much as they should! Should students who don’t have time to devote to homework and studying be taking the course?

Arum and Roksa confirm a number of other conclusions drawn from earlier research. Students learn more effectively when they understand course and program goals and the characteristics of excellent work. They learn more effectively when they are academically challenged and given high but attainable expectations. And they learn more effectively when they engage in multidimensional “real world” tasks in which they explore, analyze, justify, evaluate, use other thinking skills, and arrive at multiple solutions. Chapter 18 of my book Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide, 2nd ed. (Jossey-Bass, 2009) includes a list of more practices that we know through research promote deep, lasting learning…and that are used too little in today’s college curricula.

Linda Suskie is Vice President of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.