Creating an inclusive course climate can positively impact students. It can promote more engaged learning and enhance creativity, complex thinking, and civic engagement. It also can remove barriers to learning.

An inclusive course climate creates a space where students can appropriately connect prior knowledge, collaborate, and learn from others.


Inclusive pedagogical strategies include promoting intentional collaboration and interaction among students, which may have positive effects on how they see communities and understand civic responsibility.[1] By working with and for others, they develop a sense of mutuality and reciprocity, which are elements of participating in a democracy.[2] Further, “classrooms are natural environments where students gain knowledge about diversity, but also arenas of practice where they can develop, apply, reflect on, and refine the skills that are necessary to respectful and purposeful collaborations across difference.”[3]

Complex Thinking

Studies show that when diversity is meaningfully engaged over the course of four years, it can have a positive impact on more complex modes of thought.[4] There is some debate about the impact of positive experiences with diversity on critical thinking skills.[5] While Pascarella found that interactional diversity (i.e., meaningful interactions with others inside and outside the classroom) appeared to have a very strong impact on the critical thinking skills of students with lower levels of academic preparation and among White students; Roksa found no impact. However, Roksa found that negative experiences with diversity had a negative impact on critical thinking skills among students of color and White students. Negative experiences occurred when students felt their ideas and opinions were shut down due to prejudice and discrimination; when they felt insulted based on their racial, religious, ethnic, or gender identity; or when they had unresolved interactions with diverse students.

Pascarella’s research, among others, indicates that cooperative learning among diverse peers has a small influence on long-term critical thinking skills across different racial categories and academic preparation.[6][7][8]

Overall, studies indicate positive learning outcomes for all students when they have positive interactions across difference. An inclusive classroom climate can foster these interactions.

Engaged Learning

Students enter our classrooms with varying skills, knowledge, values, and social and emotional experiences. This background can influence what they know, how they understand themselves, and how they engage in learning.[9]

Inclusive pedagogy helps us create classrooms that recognize and effectively employ students’ complex experiences, minds, and bodies,[10] which can have a positive impact on how students learn. [11]

People expand their knowledge base when they reflect and reconcile new information using mental models that have developed from previous ideas and experiences.[12][13] Learners may decide to value new ideas and adjust what they already believe. However, they may discard new information because it seems too distant or irrelevant to what they already assume to be true. Because we want to expand students’ understanding, we need to tap into these wells of knowledge and experience to make sure they are accurate, appropriate, and can be linked to our disciplines.

In addition to discrete pieces of knowledge, prior beliefs and attitudes about learning can enhance or decrease student performance.

Structure of knowledge

Certainty or stability of knowledge

Source of knowledge

Speed of knowledge acquisition

Nature of intelligence

In each instance, what a student believes impacts their behavior. Also, students’ prior experience with academic success may not match our definitions of excellence.  

In order to build new knowledge, people must actively engage accurate and appropriate prior knowledge, skills, and beliefs, and be motivated to do so. Inclusive pedagogy assumes a range of knowledge, educational experiences, and beliefs about learning. It uses strategies to reveal what students bring to the classroom or graduate school and aims to engage their strengths while working toward a common expectation of high performance.

Impact for Educators

Inclusive pedagogy helps students engage in learning by activating their understandings of the world and their identities.

This process can be enhanced by educators demonstrating what inclusive learning looks like. As we might ask students to do, faculty and lecturers can use this opportunity to share how and why they entered their fields; some of the challenges they faced; the unique lenses and framework they use in their scholarship; and how they approach unfamiliar information. This activity allows educators to draw upon their experiences as scholars and human beings in order to model how to effectively use one’s past for learning and for developing a critical, intellectual stance.

  1. Dallalfar et al., 2011
  2. Gurin et al., 2002
  3. Lee, p. 22
  4. Pascarella et al., 2014
  5. Roksa et al., 2017
  6. Pascarella, 2014
  7. Antonio et al., 2004
  8. Williams, 2015
  9. Ambrose et al., 4
  10. Tuitt, 210
  11. Hooks, 1994
  12. Ambrose & Lovette, 2014
  13. Hammond, 2015