Understanding Learning Environments at the Graduate Level: A Qualitative Analysis of Doctoral Engineering Education Programs within the United States

  • Bobby Adams


The purpose of this contribution is to offer insight on the methods in which current, graduate, engineering education programs incorporate tenets of the four learning environments from the How People Learn framework into their programs of study (Bransford et al., 1999). For over a decade, professional and academic engineering organizations have declared the need for the integration of non-technical competencies (e.g., communication, collaboration, creative thinking, and lifelong learning) into the curriculum of all engineering programs (Grasso & Burkins, 2010; National Academy of Engineering [NAE], 2004). Efforts advancing this initiative to promote holistic-style engineering requires the training of future postsecondary educators that understand and apply the four learning environments (i.e., student-centered, knowledge-centered, assessment-centered, and community-centered), reflected in Bransford and colleague’s (1999) How People Learn framework. In this qualitative study, an open coding strategy was applied to public data gathered from nine, select engineering education, graduate programs to answer the following question: In what ways do current U.S., graduate engineering education programs incorporate elements of the four learning environments of the How People Learn framework into their programs of study? Based on the analysis presented, the strengths associated with each program - as related to the development of holistic engineers - can be identified. These findings provide implications for the design of graduate, engineering education programs as well as conclusions useful to prospective students interested in pursuing programs that align with their personal goals to become the next generation of holistic, engineering education leaders.

Education-Curriculum and Instruction