Ignatian Pedagogy: Educating The Whole Person

Written by Jori Marshall
December 4, 2019 • 3 minute read

As an instructor, you hope that in teaching your students, the knowledge you transfer to them will extend beyond the classroom; not just on the outside but on the inside as well, inspiring reflection and action. You may be an educator of art, science, math, etc. but no matter what you teach, you want to develop not just critical thinkers but mentally, emotionally, and intellectually aware students.

There are many pedagogical practices that may inspire your teaching methods, but if you seek to educate the whole person, the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm (IPP) is an effective way to do so. Developed in the 1990’s, Ignatian pedagogy is a formative approach designed to create a value-oriented learning experience. This method of teaching is based on the vision of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Focused on Education for Justice, key Jesuit values, such as cura persanolis: "care for the entire person", are the core of this pedagogical paradigm.

IPP encourages teachers to shape learning in both a moral and intellectual framework while making the student aware of not just what they can gain from receiving an education, but how their attainment of knowledge can better serve society and the global community. It steers away from creating “competitors” to creating compassionate, conscience, and competent students.

Ignatian Pedagogy goes beyond the two-step instructional model of experience and action and move towards a more holistic model where reflection plays an important role. It is learner and other-centered in that it involves the students in recognizing what choices the manifestations of their learning can lead to and how those choices may or may not affect others. IPP is a powerful tool for social justice education and can aide in creating socially aware thinkers and leaders. It personalizes learning, and promotes transformative action to create leaders who will practice responsible citizenship.

IPP encourages a movement from theory to action and encourage students to become advocates and agents of God’s love and justice. IPP is not a pedagogy exclusive to those of religious or spiritual faith, utilized in secular settings, it can inspire teachers to concentrate on a holistic learning process that prioritizes all aspects of development including intellectual, spiritual, and moral growth.

Five steps are involved in the Dynamics of the Ignatian Paradigm, according to the Jesuit Institute, the process includes:

Step 1: Context

Step 2: Experience

Step 3: Reflection

Step 4: Action

Step 5: Evaluation

Visual model of Ignatian Pedagogy

Step 1: Context

Context stems from the awareness in Jesuit tradition that “adaptation to different cultures is crucial”. It prioritizes personal care and concern for the individual student and involves the teacher in the experience of the learner. Therefore you should consider the following: 

  • Context of a student’s life that involves culture, politics, family, peers, music, media and other elements
  • A student’s socio-economic, political and cultural background
  • Concepts previously obtained that students hold in the beginning of a learning-process
  • Norms and expectations that makeup the institutional environment of your school or learning center. 

Context in essence is about meeting your students where they are and helping them move beyond an individualized context into a more universal one. 

Step 2: Experience

Experience in IPP is focused on your student’s “encounter with people, places, events, and texts that stretch them beyond prior knowledge and experiences.” Experience is important in the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm and moves further beyond “cognitive grasp” and into a direct or vicarious experience.

  • Direct Experience: direct experiences occur more frequently in “interpersonal experiences such as conversations or discussions, laboratory investigations, field trips, service projects, participation in sports, and the like”. It allows for more engagement in relation to vicarious experience. 
  • Vicarious Experience: vicarious experience is more secondary, where learning is achieved through reading or listening to a lecture. Vicarious experience is more efficient when you are able to stimulate student’s imaginations and senses allowing students to “enter the reality studied more fully”.

Step 3: Reflection

Reflection and experience go hand in hand where students are encouraged to look back at what they’ve experienced and creating understandings and links. It includes contemplating on a subject matter, idea or experience to build a complete comprehension. Meaning emerges for students through reflection by: 

  • A clear understanding of whatever truth is being studied
  • Understanding the origin of awareness or response they experience in their reflections.
  • Students developing understanding of implications that are grasped for not only themselves but others.  
  • Achieving personal insights into truths, ideas, events etc. 
  • Gaining an awareness of who they are and this awareness in relation to others. 

You can coach your students through the process of reflection but reflection does not guarantee that a student may act in a selfless or altruistic manner with the knowledge they receive. This is where reflection and experience go hand in hand. 

Step 4: Action

Action in Ignatian Pedagogy defines how your students implement their new-found knowledge prior to the process of experience and reflection. Action can manifest in many different ways; tutoring in a community, further reading, creating an experiment, etc, and it usually happens in two steps:

  • Interiorized Choices: interiorized choices are considered from a personal point of view and will prompt your students to either make the truth their own while being open to where this truth may guide them. 
  • Choices externally manifested: once aspects of reflection are interiorized, such as ideas and values, students are then compelled to act and do something with their beliefs. This action though, can be positive or negative. 

Step 5: Evaluation

Evaluation in IPP is important to asses the goal of being able to move students beyond academic mastery. It is concerned with the students’ growth as a “person for others” therefore periodically evaluating the development of “attitudes, priorities, and actions consistent with being a person for others” is crucial. This phase of IPP serves as meta-reflection and you can coach your students in this process through further probing of what they’ve learned or how they’ve grown by assisting students in reflecting thoughtfully and sincerely. According to the Jesuit Institute, comprehensive assessment won’t occur as frequently as academic testing but planning evaluations in Intervals is useful. Student self-evaluations, review of student journals, and mentoring are ways to assess interpersonal growth in your students. 

Are you or someone you know finding success with implementing Ignatian pedagogical paradigms? If so, we’d love to hear from you! Email instructionaldesign@usfca.edu to share your story.

Whether you don’t know where to start or have a particular educational technology in mind, we are here to help! To learn how to apply educational technologies to your course, request an Instructional Design consultation.

Contact Instructional Technology & Training to schedule a training session and access self-guided training materials on educational technologies supported at the University of San Francisco.



  • Ignatian Pedagogy: A Practical Approach (The Jesuit Institute, 1993) [PDF download]
  • Reflection in action: A signature Ignatian pedagogy for the 21st Century (Mountin & Nowacek, 2012, from Exploring More Signature Pedagogies: Approaches to Teaching Disciplinary Habits of Mind)
  • Work-Readiness Training, Ignatian Pedagogy, and Neuroscience: Implications for Serving Disadvantaged Students at Jesuit Institutions (Brin, 2015, Jesuit Higher Education: A Journal)