University of Auckland logo

Stay informed

Receive updates on teaching and learning initiatives and events.

  1. Home
  2.  — 
  3. Signature pedagogical practices
  4.  — 
  5. Relational learning
  6.  — Students and subject

Students and subject

Relational learning between students and their subject refers to the process of building connections with the content they are learning. This approach emphasises the importance of personal engagement and relevance in facilitating students’ learning and understanding of the material.

There are various opportunities to enhance students’ relationships with the subject matter in a higher education environment. Creating opportunities for students to engage in authentic learning activities is one such strategy.

“Authentic Learning describes learning activities that are either carried out in real-world contexts, or have high transfer to a real-world setting. Authentic learning activities should have both personal and cultural relevance.”1

Students can be given the opportunities to research, create and present on topics that relate to the use of real-world, authentic examples and connections. This encourages students to play an active role in their learning and develop a deeper understanding of the material by making connections to their own interests, experiences, and the world around them. There are strong connections between students and subject and students and their place.

If the subject is of personal importance to the students, they are more motivated to engage in the topic and retain it longer.

Three students testing a car's electrical systems

Small steps

Some practical tips to enhance your students’ relationship with the subject matter.2

  • Making the subject relevant to students’ lives; invite connections between the subject matter and students’ experiences.
  • Sharing your own enthusiasm for the subject.
  • Encouraging the students to talk about “big” ideas in the field.
  • Discussing researchers in the field as embodied people who lived in particular times. Making them “real” people with whom students can interact and seeking diversity amongst researchers represented.
  • Treating students as members of the disciplinary community, inviting and respecting their contributions alongside – and in dialogue with – some of the leading thinkers in the field.
  • Involving students in authentic inquiry, which may involve changing the setting, such as going into the field, a laboratory, a library, or the community.
  • Using a variety of media to support teaching – images and videos can be more emotionally engaging than text alone.

Authentic learning experiences for students

Professor Andrew Luxton-Reilly from the School of Computer Science was a recipient of a Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award from Ako Aotearoa in 2019. In this video, Andrew talks about how he creates authentic learning experiences for students.

Students and subject in practice

Page updated 21/03/2023 (minor edit)

  1. Galindo, J.H. Authentic Learning (Simulations, Lab, Field). 2023; Available from:
  2. Quinlan, Kathleen, M. “How emotion matters in four key relationships in teaching and learning in higher education.” College Teaching, 64, no 3 (2016): 101-111. doi: 10.1080/87567555.2015.1088818.

What do you think about this page? Is there something missing? For enquiries unrelated to this content, please visit the Staff Service Centre

This form is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.