Ignatian Pedagogy


CNDLS’ work in teaching, learning, and scholarship is informed by and incorporates complementary pedagogical frameworks and ideas. This is particularly true of Ignatian Pedagogy, a set of pedagogical principles and practices that are part of Georgetown’s Jesuit identity and tradition. Our programs and resources are defined by our commitment to educating the whole person, to understanding the role of reflection in learning, to creating community in diversity, and to many other principles fundamental to Ignatian Pedagogy. Although Ignatian Pedagogy is rooted in the Catholic faith, Ignatian Pedagogy offers faculty and students of diverse faith traditions a human-centered approach to conceptualizing teaching, learning, and scholarship rooted in social justice and engaged reflection.

Ignatian by Design

At CNDLS we regularly employ a design thinking methodology when supporting faculty in course innovation and redesign processes. An approach to problem-solving and innovation based on architects’ and designers’ creative processes, design thinking has become increasingly popular not only in business but also in higher education. We find a surprising yet satisfying connection between this twenty-first century design approach with roots in Silicon Valley and Ignatian pedagogy with roots in spiritual exercises devised in the 16th century by Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (known as the d. school) has popularized a five step design thinking process for jumpstarting innovation that requires designers to empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. As illustrated in the two diagrams below, this design process has important echoes of Ignatian pedagogy, which consists of a continual interplay of context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation.

Ignatian Pedagogy Design Cycle
Ignatian Pedagogy as a continuous cycle of design, starting with context, moving to experience, reflection, action, and finally to evaluation, and then back to context to begin the cycle again.
Design Thinking Design Cycle
The Design Thinking model as a continuous cycle of design, starting with empathize, moving to define, ideate, prototype, and test, and then back to empathize to begin the cycle again.

Both design thinking and Ignatian pedagogy are fundamentally human-centered approaches. Each has at its core the value of empathy, or the quest to understand another. The aim of Jesuit education is that a focus on the full growth of the person will lead to action. Jesuits embrace a tradition of practical spirituality which intersects with design thinking’s bias toward action and solving real world problems. This focus on the practical connects with another central mission of both enterprises: service. Nelson and Stolterman in their influential book The Design Way define design as service, a definition that aligns with the goal of a Jesuit education to form “men and women for others.”

CNDLS provides faculty opportunities to understand and apply design thinking by following an iterative design process that mirrors that of the Ignatian Pedagogical paradigm. The cycle of the iterative design process places students in the center of the process and at each phase. The process begins with envisioning, which focuses on deep dives in relation to context and experience. Then, the emphasis shifts to designing; however, the focus on context and experience carry through. During the design phase faculty ideate and reflect on their designs individually, with their peers, and with CNDLS designers. Taking action when moving from design to development enables faculty to continue iterating with peer and expert formative feedback. Evaluation in the iterative design process doesn’t only come at the end; it marks the beginning of the implementation and is threaded throughout the process so that it informs future envisioning.

The student-centered CNDLS iterative design process.
A student at the center of the CNDLS iterative design process, with images of Georgetown University’s skyline. The design process is depicted as a continuous cycle, starting with envision, moving to design, develop, implement, and evaluate, before returning to envision to begin the cycle again.

Ignatian Pedagogy in Our Work

Here are some of the CNDLS programs and initiatives that employ Ignatian Pedagogy and other Jesuit values:

The Engelhard Project for Connecting Life and Learning

The Engelhard project invites faculty into cohorts and course redesign processes that focus on cura personalis, reflection and care for the whole person.

The Engelhard Conversations on Teaching

Faculty join regular conversations on topics such as Teaching to Mission and Inclusivity and Well-being.

Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI)

Each year at our summer institute we offer workshops introducing faculty and staff to Ignatian pedagogical principles. This year, we are planning a series of workshops that will constitute a full Ignatian Pedagogy track at TLISI.

Teaching Commons

Faculty can find out more information about how Ignatian Pedagogy can inform their course design and practices on our online Teaching Commons.

Online Course Design

In designing online courses at Georgetown, our learning designers work with faculty and subject matter experts to make the experiences as meaningful and rigorous as our face-to-face courses. This means adapting certain Ignatian principles for new environments. For example, we worked with Prof. Frank Ambrosio to design a Dante MOOC on the edX platform that encourages the Jesuit values of reflection and contemplative reading. CNDLS supported the design of Intersections, a course with the Center for Social Justice that guided students doing community-based learning with a larger cycle of experience, reflection, action and evaluation.

Technology Enhanced Learning

CNDLS supports faculty in adopting technology in ways that supports their goals, including goals around teaching to the whole person and student formation. For example, a group of faculty joined together for an ITEL cohort on Using Technology to Support Whole Person Learning. In another ITEL project, First Year Colloquium: Discovering the Authentic Self, faculty worked to build their capacity to create meaningful, engaged, and reflective learning. Lastly, another ITEL project integrated reflection and technology for self-care in medical education.

Domains and EPortfolios

We have launched a service called Georgetown Domains that offers students, faculty, and staff web space to encourage the development and ownership of digital identities. These web spaces allow students to connect their life and learning with the larger world, a key part of the Jesuit tradition.

Course Blogs

Technologies such as blogs can be used to encourage writing, critical reflection, and to see learning as a process rather than a product. If used well, blogs can help students develop a greater sense of their overall experience of learning by making the entirety of their learning engagement visible as a collection of their writing and thinking.