What is the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning? An Overview

There is a lot of discussion in higher education pedagogical circles regarding definitions of the scholarship of teaching and learning. As a relatively new discipline (codified in Ernest Boyer’s 1990 book, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate), the challenge of articulating the boundaries of “what counts” as part of the discipline is understandable. Many participants within this conversation have found it helpful to clarify the distinction between scholarly teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning.

As teachers, we make decisions all the time about the goals that we have for student learning, the materials we will include in our course to facilitate this learning, the structure of individual class meetings and assignments that we will employ to foster development of student understanding, and the mechanisms by which we will evaluate whether this learning has been achieved. At each of these decision points, a scholarly teacher is one who seeks out and reflects upon what is currently known about pedagogical best practices and incorporates the insights gleaned from this body of existing knowledge into their own teaching practices.

In contrast, an individual who is engaged in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) is someone who is actively contributing to the larger body of evidence on the relationship between teaching and learning. A SOTL scholar does so by developing a pedagogical research question that is informed by previous research on teaching and learning, collecting and analyzing relevant evidence related to their question of interest, making the results of this inquiry public in a format that invites peer review, and contributing to the corpus of knowledge that seeks to improve learning through changes in teaching. The goal of SOTL, then, is to inform and improve scholarly teaching and ultimately to improve student learning.

Doing SOTL: Getting Started

  • Framing the Question. As described by Pat Hutchings in her introduction to Opening Lines: Approaches to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (2000), SOTL questions can fall into four categories:
    • What Works? These questions examine the impact of particular pedagogical approaches on learning outcomes.
    • What is? These questions focus on describing how students are engaging with the learning process and/or how pedagogical practices are implemented, rather than examining the impact of these actions on learning.
    • Visions of the Possible. These questions focus on potential outcomes related to teaching and learning that are not yet realized.
    • Theory Building. These questions seek to inform the creation of frameworks or models of teaching and learning.


  • Conducting a Literature Review. We at the CTL are happy to help you identify helpful sources for informing your scholarship of teaching and learning inquiry project. Please consult our resource library for a range of books relevant to your area of inquiry. Additionally, Nicola Simmons has compiled an extensive annotated bibliography of SOTL resources, organized by topic area. Finally, if you would like to get a sense of the most commonly cited and read SOTL work, Nancy Chick has compiled a Top 10 list, sourced from experts in the field.


  • Gathering and Evaluating Evidence. The type of artifacts that you collect as evidence of student learning will inherently influence the nature of the conclusions you draw about student learning. As SOTL is an interdisciplinary field of inquiry, both qualitative and quantitative approaches are employed to examine how learning is (and is not) impacted by one’s teaching practice. It is critical, however, to consider where in the work that students are doing in your class would you find meaningful evidence that learning has occured? While indirect reports (e.g., faculty reflections, students’ self-reported learning gains) provide important insights into how the learning climate is perceived, SOTL work requires direct evidence of changes in student understanding. This evidence may include students’ written work products, video-recordings of students’ approaches to a task, oral presentations, artwork, or any other format in which students are demonstrating their learning in your course.

**As a reminder, the doing of SOTL work is a human subjects enterprise and requires appropriate adherence to ethical guidelines for the collection and dissemination of information about student learning. Please consult Amherst College’s Institutional Review Board policies and procedures before beginning your SOTL project.**