Keeping your college classroom rigorous can help push your students to achieve more.

When you go to the gym, do you plan on sweating, or do you plan on walking on a treadmill as slowly as possible? If you’re like most, you push yourself, because you know you gain little from taking it easy. The same principle applies to college education.

If your lesson plans and assignments are too easy, your students won’t receive much educational benefit. And that’s where the concept of academic rigor comes from. Just like a workout must be rigorous for your body to benefit, a college education must be rigorous for students’ minds to benefit. But how do you create and ensure academic rigor in higher education? Here are a few methods.

Recognize That Rigor Creates Fears

When any of us are asked to do something difficult, we naturally fear failure. This is true in an academic setting, too. When asking students to complete a rigorous assignment, you must remain cognizant of your students’ fears and be aware that some may want to disengage. Your job is to keep those fears from subverting the learning experience.

Accept Failure

Eventually, you will have to grade your students. But that doesn’t mean you have to provide critiques on a day-to-day basis. To help your students move beyond the fears they may experience when facing a rigorous lesson, you should give them room to err. That doesn’t mean you should grade easily, but it does mean there should be no academic consequence for making a mistake during the process of classroom learning. If you make this clear and stick to your promise, students will feel a lot more free to take the risks necessary to grow academically.

Promote Discussions

While lecturing is a time-honored component of higher education, it only requires a student to listen. When you keep lectures to a minimum and spend more time leading student discussions of lessons and readings, you force your students to process knowledge in a much more complex way. Instead of merely taking notes, students have to interact with what they’ve learned, which can lead to a deeper understanding of the material.

Ask Questions Instead of Giving Answers

One of the oldest teaching methods in Western culture is the Socratic method. And there’s a good reason why it’s still used. You can spur much deeper thinking among your students by asking pointed questions that relate to the lesson, and then stepping back and allowing the students to hash out an answer. If they go astray or go quiet, ask another question. Then another. When done well, this method can open minds.

Provide Encouragement

If a student makes a particularly astute point or approaches the lesson from a unique angle, recognize his or her effort and achievement. Everyone appreciates being told they’re working hard and making progress. And the more you encourage students to push themselves and grow, the more other students will feel comfortable with pushing themselves, too.

Recognize the Limitations of Individual Students

No two students are the same. Some may have social anxieties that make it hard for them to participate in class discussions. Some may have personal situations that are impeding their ability to meet academic challenges. Others may simply learn differently. Pay attention to your students and learn who they are as people. If they need help, develop a solution or utilize the resources of your institution to help them find one. That way, you can improve your ability to rigorously educate everyone.

Give Breathers

You can’t run at full speed forever, and neither can students push themselves academically without the occasional break. It’s okay to have an easier class from time to time or use a portion of every class to focus on less rigorous material. Your students will need it and thank you for it.

Enroll in a Graduate Program in Higher Education

If you want to learn more about promoting and maintaining academic rigor in college classrooms, consider earning a master’s in higher education. This higher education degree can help you gain the skills you need to keep classrooms rigorous and ultimately succeed in a career in education, whether you’re interested in administration, teaching, or academic advising.

There are multiple ways to earn an MS in Higher Education, but one of the most convenient is to enroll in an online university. With online learning, you can continue working full time and/or balance your other responsibilities while earning your degree. An online higher education master’s program lets you complete your coursework from anywhere and avoid the hassle of constantly having to travel to a specific classroom at a specific time. It’s a great way to earn your master’s and learn how to promote academic rigor.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online MS in Higher Education degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden offers both state-approved educator licensure programs as well as programs and courses that do not lead to licensure or endorsements. Prospective students must review their state licensure requirements prior to enrolling. For more information, please refer to www.WaldenU.edu/educlicensure.

Prospective Alabama students: Contact the Teacher Education and Certification Division of the Alabama State Department of Education at 1-334-242-9935 or www.alsde.edu to verify that these programs qualify for teacher certification, endorsement, and/or salary benefits.

Prospective Washington state students are advised to contact the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction at 1-360-725-6400 or prof.educ@k12.wa.us to determine whether Walden’s programs in the field of education are approved for teacher certification or endorsements in Washington state. Additionally, teachers are advised to contact their individual school district as to whether this program may qualify for salary advancement.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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