Global Learning: Defining, Designing, Demonstrating
Published On: 
January 15, 2014

Global Learning: Defining, Designing, Demonstrating

Global Learning: Defining, Designing, Demonstrating is a joint publication of NAFSA: Association of International Educators and the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

The goal of this publication is to provide a definition and rationale for “global learning,” which is a term widely used across higher education, although faculty, staff, and practitioners do not always agree about what it means.  By exploring how the term and the ideas behind it are evolving, global learning is placed in the context of several important overlapping higher education change efforts.  

A shared vocabulary of global learning outcomes can help campus practitioners build valuable alliances that extend beyond those offices, departments, and individuals typically assumed to hold primary responsibility for the global mission of an institution. These expanded alliances can include the whole campus and incorporate a wide range of related priorities. To be effective, they must bridge the often deep divides between academic and student affairs, campus and community, and general education and the major.

This publication is organized into three sections corresponding to three important and closely related steps that campus leaders are taking at institutions across the country and around the world:

  • Defining global learning and a set of associated student learning outcomes or competencies;
  • Designing educational experiences through which students gain competence and meet those outcomes; and
  • Demonstrating that those experiences actually help students achieve global learning outcomes, while simultaneously creating projects and as­signments that allow students to demonstrate competencies—that they can apply the knowledge, skills, and perspectives that signify their development as global learners.

These steps constitute an approach that might be described as 3-D Global Learning—a reference not only to the three Ds described above, but also to the multidimensional maps colleges and universities are creating to guide their global learning efforts.  

Following the discussion of how institutions are pursuing work related to the steps outlined above, Global Learning briefly describes the corresponding maps that could emerge for global learning.

This publication is available at no cost on both the NAFSA and AAC&U websites.

Download a copy (pdf)

About the Author

From 2001 to 2014, Kevin Hovland directed the Shared Futures initiative at the Association of American Colleges and Universities. He was also the program director for AAC&U’s Annual Meeting and executive editor of the periodicalDiversity & Democracy.  In May of 2014, he became senior director, academic programs at NAFSA.


NAFSA: Association of International Educators promotes the exchange of students and scholars to and from the United States. The association sets standards of good practice and provides professional education and training that strengthen institutional programs and services related to international education and exchange. NAFSA provides a forum for discussion of issues and a network for sharing information as it seeks to increase awareness of and support for international education in higher education, in government, and in the community. In 1948, NAFSA pioneered the concept of providing professional services for postsecondary exchange students. Early efforts to enhance living and learning environments for exchange students have blossomed into today’s active association of accomplished professionals whose numbers continue to grow worldwide.

About the Association of American Colleges and Universities

Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) is the leading national association concerned with the quality, vitality, and public standing of undergraduate liberal education. Its members are committed to extending the advantages of a liberal education to all students, regardless of academic specialization or intended career. Founded in 1915, AAC&U now comprises more than 1,300 member institutions—including accredited public and private colleges, community colleges, research universities, and comprehensive universities of every type and size.