Research in education has brought to light the complexity of the learning process, demonstrating that students' development is influenced by a myriad of cultural and social factors, as well as the environment in which learning takes place. Engineering curricula, however, are primarily focused on teaching content knowledge, often resulting in a gap between what is taught and what is learned. We propose that shifting some of the focus onto the process of learning that occurs within the student and leveraging multiple known connections from educational psychology can result in more effective engineering education. Here we define “effective” engineering education as that which leads to greater retention of knowledge, accelerated skills development, and enhanced motivation for life-long learning. We have developed a curriculum design tool to facilitate this shift. It is a diagram that makes explicit the connections between properties of the "learning environment" or "cognitive activity" and the development occurring within the student. The Four-Domain Development Diagram, a synthesis of known empirical relationships in the learning literature, enables a faculty member to take a systems approach while designing learning activities. For example, it is known that several factors increase the construct of intrinsic motivation (a key ingredient in self-directed learning) such as students' valuation of the material being learned, autonomy in the learning process, a sense of relatedness in the learning environment and experiencing mastery. Unlike other models of learning which focus on the independent influence of one or two constructs, such as student interest or choice, our diagram enables one to design the learning experience to utilize the multiple natural known-relationships within the learner’s development to promote a greater internal drive for learning. Over the course of a three-year period, three cohorts (totaling ~120 students) have participated in learning experiences which have been designed according to the relationships in the Four-Domain Development Diagram. Engineering students in "learning experiences" designed according to the diagram report significantly higher levels of interaction with peers as learning collaborators, greater use of integrative cognitive strategies during self-directed learning and a higher degree of moral reasoning than comparison groups (these results are being published elsewhere). While it is not possible to establish a definitive cause-effect relationship, the results provide encouraging signs that the diagram can be useful as a design guide for simultaneously leveraging natural causal relationships leading to students' development along cognitive, affective, psychomotor and social domains. In this paper, we present the model and its key theoretical and empirical underpinnings. We also provide examples of how it can been used.


Materials Science and Engineering

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URL: http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/mate_fac/77