My general research interests in the field of engineering education lie somewhere near the interface of transfer of learning (primary area), collaborative learning (secondary area I), and student motivation and engagement (secondary area II) in the contextual setting of cross-disciplinary, student-based undergraduate engineering design teams. With a general interest in the primary area of transfer of learning (also known as transfer of practice, knowledge transfer, and transfer of skill), promoting mindful learning over mindlessness is not sufficient but necessary.
First, interest in transfer of learning as a phenomenon relevant to the co-construction of knowledge is motivated by the significant role it plays in formal education. To be clear, “[t]ransfer of learning is universally accepted as the ultimate aim of teaching” (McKeough, Lupart, & Marini, 1995, p. vii) and “widely considered to be a fundamental goal of education” (Marini & Genereux, 1995, p. 1). Ellis (1965), Haslerud (1972), Cormier and Hagman (1987), Detterman and Sternberg (1993), the National Academy of Engineering (2000), and Mestre (2005) concur. Explained, Tuomi-Grohn, Engestrom, and Young (2003) argue that “[s]chools are not able to teach students everything they will need to know for the rest of their lives; they must equip students with the ability to transfer – to use what they have learned to solve new problems successfully or to learn quickly in new situations” (p. 1; emphasis added).
Now, consider the following from (Langer, 2000): “When we are mindless, our behavior is rule and routine governed; when we are mindful, rules and routines may guide our behavior rather than predetermine it” (p. 220; emphasis added). In other words, the promotion of mindful learning will prepare students for future learning, teaching them to adaptively transfer generalized rules and routines to novel contexts.
Next, while co-constructing knowledge, students interact with three different features of content – incidental features, surface features, and deep features (Schwartz & Nasir, 2003). First, incidental features are characteristics of the context surrounding a concept, not the concept itself. They can be thought of as distractors. Second, surface features are characteristics of a concept that might promote deep understanding of the concept but are in no way necessary for understanding it. Third, deep features are characteristics of a concept so fundamental to the definition of the concept that they are absolutely necessary to understand it. Overall, successful transfer of learning necessitates that the deep features of a concept be brought to the foreground and, at the same time, the surface and incidental features be forced into the background.
Again, consider the following from (Langer, 2000): “Mindfulness is a flexible state of mind in which we are actively engaged in the present, noticing new things and sensitive to context. When we are in a state of mindlessness, we act like automatons who have been programmed to act according to the sense our behavior made in the past, rather than the present.” (p. 220; emphasis added). In other words, mindfulness equips students, via a prior context, with the functional structures of phenomena necessary to process said phenomena in a new context.