Learning Outside the Classroom:
Transcending Artificial Boundaries
George D. Kuh
ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education
and personal development during the undergraduate years occurs as a result of
students engaging in both academic and non-academic activities, inside and outside
the classroom (Astin, 1993; Pascarella and Terenzini, 1991). To enhance student
learning, institutions must make classroom experiences more productive and also
encourage students to devote more of their time outside the classroom to educationally
purposeful activities (Kuh, Schuh, Whitt and Associates, 1991).
DO OUT-OF-CLASS EXPERIENCES CONTRIBUTE
TO VALUED OUTCOMES OF COLLEGE?
This Report summarizes the research on the contributions of out-of-class
experiences to valued outcomes of postsecondary education, including (a) cognitive
complexity (e.g., critical thinking, intellectual flexibility, reflective judgment);
(b) knowledge acquisition and application; (c) humanitarianism (e.g., interest
in the welfare of others); (d) interpersonal and intrapersonal competence (e.g.,
self-confidence, identity, ability to relate to others); and (e) practical competence
(e.g., decision making, vocational preparation) (Kuh, 1993). In addition, out-of-class
experiences linked to persistence and educational attainment also are discussed.
who expend more effort in a variety of activities benefit the most intellectually
and in the personal development domain (Astin, 1993; Chickering and Reisser, 1993;
Pascarella and Terenzini, 1991). Some experiences, however, are more likely than
others to foster desired outcomes. For example, living in an academic-theme residence
is associated with gains in critical thinking, intellectual development, and aesthetic
appreciation; involvement in student government has been linked to gains in student
understanding and appreciation of human differences.
CONDITIONS FOSTER STUDENT LEARNING OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM?
following institutional conditions encourage students to use their out-of-class
experiences to educational advantage:
Clear, coherent, and consistently expressed educational purposes;
A guiding institutional philosophy that values talent development as a primary
goal of undergraduate education;
Complementary institutional policies and practices congruent with students' characteristics
High, clear expectations for student performance;
Use of effective teaching approaches;
Systematic assessment of student performance and institutional environments, policies,
Ample opportunities for student involvement in meaningful out-of-class activities;
Human scale settings characterized by ethics of membership and care; and
An ethos of learning that pervades all aspects of the institution.
CAN INSTITUTIONS ENHANCE STUDENT LEARNING?
institution can enhance student learning by using its existing resources more
effectively. The key tasks in transcending the artificial boundaries between in-class
and out-of-class learning experiences are (a) to break down the barriers between
various units (e.g., academic departments, administrative services, student affairs)
and (b) to create situations in which students examine the connections between
their studies and life outside the classroom and to apply what they are learning.
Key steps are for institutions to address the importance of out-of-class experiences
explicitly in the institution's mission, develop a common understanding of the
desired outcomes of undergraduate education and the combination of institutional
conditions and student experiences most likely to produce these outcomes, assess
regularly the impact of out-of-class environments on students, and shape student
cultures in ways that foster responsible behavior.
What Can Governing Boards
and Presidents Do? Governing boards positively influence student learning beyond
the classroom when they support such experiences financially, base institutional
policies on accurate data about the quality of students' experiences, and hire
a president who values undergraduate education and understands and appreciates
the contributions of life outside the classroom to institutional and student goals.
The president should periodically remind stakeholders about the value of out-of-class
experiences and make decisions based on accurate information about students and
CAN ACADEMIC AND STUDENT AFFAIRS ADMINISTRATORS DO?
institutional officers help create an ethos of learning when they send consistent
messages about the complementarity of in-class and out-of-class experiences, establish
strong working relations with each other and communication links with the faculty,
translate what the institution values into behavioral terms for student performance
outside the classroom, disseminate data about students and their experiences,
and ask students to think about, and apply, what they are learning in class to
life outside the classroom, and vice versa.
CAN FACULTY MEMBERS DO?
influence out-of-class learning environments by the nature and amount of academic
work they assign. To link the curriculum and academic goals more closely with
student life outside the classroom, faculty can structure assignments that require
students to illustrate how they are using class material in other areas of their
lives, use active learning and other effective pedagogical strategies, hold students
to high expectations, and indicate clearly what they must do to succeed academically.
CAN STUDENTS DO?
take responsibility for their own learning when they participate in out-of-class
activities and events that enrich the educational experience (e.g., orientation,
guest lectures, internships), develop a portfolio of out-of-class learning experiences
and associated benefits, and discuss with others their academic progress and how
what they are learning in classes applies to other aspects of their life.
CAN ARTIFICIAL BOUNDARIES BETWEEN CLASSROOMS
AND OUT-OF-CLASS EXPERIENCES
conditions that foster student learning outside the classroom cannot be created
by any one individual. However, an institution can increase the likelihood that
students will experience college as a seamless web of learning across classroom
and out-of-class settings by linking programs and activities across the academic
and out-of-class dimensions of students' lives and removing obstacles to students'
pursuit of their academic and personal goals. For this to occur, faculty, administrators,
and others must challenge students and each other to view learning as continuous
and contagious in the biology lab, library, academic advisors' office, residence
hall lounge, place of employment, student union, community service, and playing
A.W. (1993). What Matters in College: Four Critical Years Revisited. San Francisco:
A.W., and L. Reisser. (1993). Education and Identity. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
G. (1993). "In Their Own Words: What Students Learn Outside the Classroom."
American Educational Research Journal 30, 277-304.
G., J. Schuh, E. Whitt and Associates. (1991). Involving Colleges: Successful
Approaches to Fostering Student Learning and Development Outside the Classroom.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
E., and P. Terenzini. (1991). How College Affects Students: Findings and Insights
From Twenty Years of Research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
ERIC digest (ED394443, 1994) is based on a full-length report in the ASHE-ERIC
Higher Education Report series 94-8, Student Learning Outside the Classroom: Transcending
Artificial Boundaries by George D. Kuh, Katie Branch Douglas, Jon P. Lund, and
report was prepared by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education in cooperation
with the Association for the Study of Higher Education and published by the Graduate
School of Education and Human Development at the George Washington University.
This publication was partially prepared with funding from the Office of Educational
Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under contract no. RR-93-002008.
opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or
policies of Learn2study, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products,
or organizations imply endorsement by Learn2study.