There is increased concern with developing a better understanding of how people learn engineering, as prior efforts to improve engineering education have often followed an ad hoc trajectory. The field lacks a systematic understanding of how engineering learning occurs and there is a paucity of knowledge on which to draw (Felder, Sheppard, & Smith, 2005; Chapter 1 by Froyd & Lohmann, this volume). To help redress this situation, in this chapter we review scholarship on learning with the aim of building a framework that can guide future research on engineering learning. Specifically, we hope to make the case for a framework that focuses on situativity and learning in engineering settings. This chapter complements other chapters in this volume including Chapters 2 by Newstetter and Svinicki; 4 by Roth; and 5 by Streveler, Brown, Herman, and Monfort that also focus on learning.
An Introduction to Learning
During the past couple of centuries, scholars from a wide range of disciplines including philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and sociology have spent considerable time trying to answer questions related to learning, such as: How does cognitive development take place? How do we grow from a child with rudimentary abilities and knowledge into a highly skillful adult? How are humans able to engage in highly complex activities? Some scholars whose work has had a major influence on research on learning include Lev Vygotsky (1962, 1978), Jean Piaget (1952, 1964), John Dewey (1896, 1934), Harold Garfinkel (1967), William James (1890/1950), George Herbert Mead (1934), Gregory Bateson (1978), Michel Polanyi (1967), and Jerome Bruner (1990, 1960). Core ideas of these scholars adopted by learning researchers in their intelle-ctual and methodological trajectory include Vygotsky's cultural historical theory, Piaget's genetic epistemology, Dewey's transactional account, James's pragmatism and realism, Polanyi's tacit knowledge, and Garfinkel's ethnomethodology. These ideas have not only shaped theoretical development of the field of learning but have also influenced the design of learning environments including our schools and curricula. Many central ideas that we take for granted in educational practice, such as the progression of child development through specific stages and the value of group work and collaborative learning, can be traced back to these influential scholars.