Does Engagement Lead to Learning?

"effective time on task" and "self-determination" are important pillars of the learning process.

Engagement is a term heard everywhere in educational circles. But how do we measure it? Is engagement always relevant to learning? Artichoke asks these questions and others:

“Engagement” is an interesting notion, as is “rich and authentic”. When I hear schools advocating the use of student inquiry and authentic contexts over other pedagogical approaches on the grounds that it engages (and thus apparently motivates) students, I always want to ask

  • How do you assess engagement?
  • How different are these measures when students are learning through inquiry activities than when they are learning through other pedagogical approaches? And
  • What difference do you find in student learning outcomes that can be causally attributed to your measures of engagement?

And when I think about “rich and authentic” I want to ask, authentic to whom? I want to know why “rich and authentic” is a more popular descriptor of the quantity and quality of the learning experience than “educationally relevant”

Perhaps the emperor has no clothes. Engagement is a fuzzy and anecdotal term. Still, I suppose when I use that term, I'm really referring to time on task and self-determination. In terms of self-determination theory, acting autonomously promotes intrinisic motivation, which in turn leads to more time on task. And it's clear that the more "effective time on task" there is (see Implications of ACT-R Theory: No Magic Bullets (pdf)), the more learning can take place.

So, yes, we need to be careful in our bandying about the terms "engagement" and "rich and authentic." Having said that, "effective time on task" and "self-determination" are important pillars of the learning process.