Studying teaching and learning in undergraduate engineering programs: Conceptual frameworks to guide research on practice

Lisa R. Lattuca, Thomas A. Litzinger

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations


Introduction. Teaching and learning have been studied from a variety of different theoretical perspectives over time. Collins, Greeno, and Resnick (2001; also, Greeno, Collins, & Resnick, 1996) suggest that each of the major perspectives on learning – behavioral, cognitive, and situative – provide us with useful, if partial, understandings of how people learn. Although these three perspectives are derived from different assumptions about what learning is and how it happens, they agree that learning is an interaction between a learner and his or her environment. A key distinction, however, is the extent to which each perspective emphasizes the learner or the environment in that interaction. In the behavioral perspective, the individual learns when presented with stimuli from his or environment. In contrast, the cognitive perspective conceptualizes the learner as an active problem-solver, adapting to his or her environment rather than primarily reacting to it. Thus, although the environment is the catalyst for learning in the behavioral perspective, it is the learner, rather than the setting he or she learns in, that is the primary focus of theories and studies that take a cognitive perspective. The situative perspective might appear to split the difference – if it were not for the very different assumptions about learning that are at its foundation. The situative – or what we call the sociocultural perspective – argues that separating learner from the environment is impossible; learning always occurs in context – or more precisely, in multiple, overlapping contexts. This is another way of saying that learning occurs in particular people with particular histories and characteristics (physical, mental, cultural, etc.) who exist in particular places in time (for discussion, see Greeno and the Middle School Mathematics Through Applications Project Group, 1998; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wertsch, 1985; Wertsch, Del Rio, & Alvarez, 1995). Learning is thus strongly influenced by who we are, where and when we live and learn, and by what we seek to learn and how we go about learning it. (See Chapter 2 by Newstetter and Svinicki and Chapter 3 by Johri, Olds, & O’Connor in this volume for a more detailed discussion.)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCambridge Handbook of Engineering Education Research
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781139013451
ISBN (Print)9781107014107
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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