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Engaged Teaching and Learning | Community Engagement

Defining engaged teaching-learning


One of North-West University’s key activities is student teaching-learning, and when this activity is linked to interactions with the community, it is called “engaged teaching-learning”. Community engagement activities related to teaching-learning are mostly not-for-profit and include professional community services and outreach (volunteerism) as well as developmental activities with a recruitment focus. Most importantly, though, engaged teaching-learning has a strong link with experiential learning which, as the name suggests, is the process of learning through experience or, to quote Kolb (1984)[1], "learning through reflection on doing". Experiential learning can also include subsidised developmental engagement involving work-integrated learning and service learning. In all instances, these forms of learning are informed by educational theories such as social constructivism and activity theory.

Subsidised developmental engagement

Subsidised developmental community engagement in the teaching-learning context refers to the priority that is afforded to the transfer of knowledge to and enhancing the learning experiences of students. (The word “subsidised” is used to indicate that some of the costs incurred are recovered from class fees.)

The objective of this form of engagement, therefore, is to add value to the development of students’ critical thinking skills and other soft skills in synergy with teaching and research, thereby contributing to their preparation for active participation as South African citizens. The term encompasses the somewhat limited notion of service learning, while simultaneously taking other service-oriented academic and non-academic community interactions into account. An example would be the prescribed practical experience as is sometimes required by professional councils such as work-integrated learning (WIL) in the community or at private sector institutions. It also enables the university to give expression to alternative forms of social responsiveness through curricular activities in the form of service to the community which go beyond standard practical courses and which, in some instances, include WIL taking place in communities.

Work-integrated learning

Work-integrated learning (WIL) is used as a unifying term to describe curricular, pedagogic and assessment practices across a range of academic disciplines that integrate formal learning and workplace experiences.

As an educational approach designed to align academic and workplace practices for the mutual benefit of both the student and the workplace, it goes without saying that WIL should demonstrably be appropriate to the qualification concerned.

Given that WIL is primarily intended to enhance student learning, several innovative curricular, pedagogical and assessment forms have been developed in response to concerns about graduates’ employability and civic responsibility. Nowadays, in addition to formal or informal work placements, integrating theory and practice in student learning can follow one of several WIL approaches. According to the “Good Practice Guide” for work-integrated learning published by the Higher Education Monitor in 2011[2], examples of such approaches include action learning, apprenticeships, cooperative education, experiential learning, inquiry learning, inter-professional learning, practicum placements, problem-based learning, project-based learning, scenario learning, service learning, team-based learning, virtual or simulated WIL, work-based learning, work experience and workplace learning.

The most commonly used forms of WIL are problem-based learning, project-based learning and workplace learning. Nevertheless, all forms of WIL have many elements in common with other forms of experiential learning, but of particular interest is that all are grounded in learning by doing and reflecting on learning as a link between theory and practice.

Of importance here is that service learning, in whatever form or fashion, is distinguished from experiential learning in as far as the former seeks reciprocity between student learning and service to the community. In other words, both the student and the community benefit and learn from the experience. This form of learning is often also referred to as community-engaged learning, curriculum-based community engagement or curricular community engagement.


Working towards curricula that support engaged teaching-learning

Throughout the year, North-West University offers several training opportunities to aid the design of curricular content that satisfy the criteria for true community engagement with particular reference to service learning. For details on the annual training calendar, please contact the Directorate Community Engagement 




[1] Kolb D. (1984). Experiential Learning as the Science of Learning and Development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

[2] HE Monitor 2011


All too often, students and staff within a specific discipline engage with the community but fail to ensure that those interactions contribute to academic understanding since findings are never reported. Remember, engaged scholarship implies that the new knowledge uncovered during the engagement process should be analysed and that the findings should be reported on to ensure that all involved benefit in a reciprocal manner.

For assistance and formal training in this regard, contact the Directorate Community Engagement or consult the training calendar.