Purdue University Graduate School
Dissertation-Xueting Dou.pdf (3.7 MB)

Affective Learning Outcomes of Short-Term Study Abroad: The Impact of Academic vs. Trip Characteristics

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posted on 2021-06-24, 17:06 authored by Xueting DouXueting Dou

The world grows increasingly interdependent and culturally diverse. As future talents to lead and sustain the global society, college graduates need to possess not only cognitive knowledge and technical skills but also affective qualities such as positive attitudes, values, and emotional responses. These qualities, which can be acquired as affective learning outcomes through education, underpin the proper application of knowledge and skills across various situations, enabling individuals to live and work effectively in a complex environment. Realizing the importance of affective development to individual students and the society at large, higher education institutions in the U.S. have supplemented traditional in-classroom studies with experiential and transformative learning activities, which are instrumental in students’ affective learning progress. Short-term study abroad represents such an institutional practice that is gaining popularity as part of undergraduate education. Against this backdrop, the educational effectiveness of short-term study abroad is of particular interest to researchers and practitioners. By identifying the gap of literature to date, the current study leverages the uniqueness of short-term study abroad as incorporating distinct components of international travel and formal education within a relatively brief time frame that mirrors a tourist experience. The study aims at providing insights into the learning that occurs when tourism activities are overlaid with formal education and promoting a deeper understanding of the travel-learning linkage.

Guided by the theoretical frameworks of experiential learning, transformative learning, and the affective taxonomy that classifies affective learning outcomes along a continuum of lower- to higher-level internalization, the empirical investigation of the study starts with a systematic synthesis of the extant literature on affective learning outcomes accrued from short-term study abroad. As a result, five salient outcome variables, ranging from lower- to higher-order in the affective taxonomy, are identified along with their respective measurement scales—perspectives on global interdependence, intercultural attitudes, openness to diversity and challenge, environmental attitudes, and general self-efficacy. Then, a mixed methods study, including the collection and analyses of pre-departure and post-program quantitative survey data and follow-up focus group data, is conducted to examine short-term study abroad participants’ acquisition of the aforementioned learning outcomes. Specifically, the study abroad experience is deconstructed into the formal education (i.e., academic characteristics) and travel (i.e., trip characteristics) components; the overall impact of program participation as well as the specific effects of such components and characteristics on students’ affective learning are investigated. The mixed-methods results confirm that lower-order affective learning outcomes, represented by conscious awareness and willingness to respond, can be attained or strengthened relatively easily, while higher-order affective learning—such as value development and internalization—is less likely to show notable changes.

The empirical outcome of the study results in a conceptual model of affective learning in short-term study abroad. The model highlights the roles of experiential learning and language learning curricula, tourism activities that enable active engagement and authentic immersion, as well as inter- and intra-group interactions for academic and social purposes. Since the characteristics of study abroad programs reflect both formal education and travel components within a short span, they require students’ proactive adaptation to a dynamic environment and minimize their reliance on the autopilot mode, thus are more likely to lead to transformative learning benefits such as enhanced affective qualities. The findings of the study enrich the extant literature on learning theories by articulating the connections among experiential learning, transformative learning, and learning in the affective domain. The empirical evidence illustrates that experiential and transformative learning approaches can lead to affective learning outcomes. The findings also advance the study abroad literature by establishing the two-component program structure of formal education and travel. Such a structure enables a holistic understanding of the study abroad experience and helps reveal the underlying mechanism of how learning effects are gained through program participation. It promotes the understanding of the conceptual linkage between study abroad and tourism in general. Especially, the findings resonate with the sociological discussions of study abroad participants as non-institutionalized tourists, who show a higher-level desire for authenticity and social contact during travel and may achieve personal transformation from the tourism experience. The conceptual model developed in the study further advocates for the investigation of study abroad as a viable venue for analyzing the educational benefits of travel.

The findings of this study also present institutional implications for higher education practitioners. The study recommends a balanced structural design of short-term study abroad programs that incorporates impactful academic and trip characteristics. Program organizers should attach a greater weight to creating learning opportunities that can hardly be found in the home campus environment or obtained through mass tourism experiences. When advising prospective participants on choosing their study abroad program, academic advisors may categorize the programs in the orientation of either focusing on formal education or international travel and recommend one according to students’ reported priorities and personal goals. In evaluating study abroad programs, educational leaders should specify lower-order affective learning outcomes as immediate impacts and determine participants’ measurable gains, while assessing higher-order affective outcomes as long-term impacts through longitudinal appraisal of educational effectiveness. Overall, higher education policymakers should commit more institutional input to developing such highly impactful and transformative experiences that integrate travel and formal education.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Hospitality and Tourism Management

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Liping A. Cai

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

Alei Fan

Additional Committee Member 2

Jonathon Day

Additional Committee Member 3

Michael Brzezinski

Additional Committee Member 4

Zhi Lu