Andragogical Learning Characteristics in Second-year and Fourth-year Mechanical

Contributing USMA Research Unit(s)

Center for Innovation and Engineering, Civil and Mechanical Engineering


According to the ABET, the goal of an undergraduate mechanical engineering program is

to prepare students to work professionally in the fields of thermal and mechanical systems. As a

part of the accreditation process, ABET requires programs to demonstrate how their students are

able to acquire knowledge as life-long learners. Employers are interested in new graduates with

the ability to think critically and work independently, which aligns well with adult learner

characteristics often referred to as andragogy. Previous work on an examination of stakeholder

documents and the purpose statements of undergraduate institutions also portrays a desire to

create graduates with an andragogical mindset, despite the relative absence of the use of the term

andragogy in engineering education literature. Pembridge developed a pilot instrument to

measure andragogical constructs utilizing different instruments directly measuring the theoretical

frameworks supporting assumptions of adult learning, while also comparing responses from firstyear

and fourth-year engineering students.1 He found significant differences between the two

year groups of engineering students, with fourth-year students having improved ability at selfdirected

learning and a stronger sense of adulthood. It is unknown how these results apply to a

cadet population, where increased structure and additional military training may influence

learning characteristics.

The purpose of this research is to investigate the learning characteristics of United States

Military Academy students enrolled in the mechanical engineering major. We surveyed students

in a second year design course and a fourth year capstone design course to better understand the

progression from a pedagogical to an andragogical learning orientation. Survey data was collected

from n = 58 (out of 85 total enrolled) second-year and n = 62 (out of 99 total enrolled) fourth-year

mechanical engineering students. The survey used was a slightly modified version from1, which

drew upon previous instruments aligned with assumptions of andragogy. This survey provides

insight in Self-Directed Learning Dimensions Scale (SDLAS), Inventory of the Dimensions of

Emerging Adulthood (IDEA), Epistemological Beliefs Assessment for Engineering (EBAE),

Engineering Expectancy and Value Scale (EV), and Engineering Design Self-Efficacy. The results

of this study contrast the andragogical orientations of second- and fourth-year students at the

United States Military Academy. The results of this work allow engineering educators to better

understand the current learning states of their students by expanding the contexts within which

andragogical learning assumptions are applied. As a result, faculty may be more informed in

curriculum decisions to fit the preponderant learning orientation. This work also allows

engineering educators to identify strategies to better align undergraduate engineering students with

the adult learning characteristics required in professional practice.

Publication Date

Summer 6-23-2018

Publication Title

American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

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