Research show that engineering students need to develop more accurate conceptual understanding. Doing so requires the motivation to engage in the difficult work of developing a conceptual understanding which often requires more effective learning strategies than those that students currently use. Although prior studies have attributed learning to motivation based on theories for interest, relatedness, usefulness, or changes over time, we wanted to approach our data from a more open and emergent standpoint, and have our findings grounded in the views of our participants. In this research study, we wanted to understand student learning in settings such as those related to hobbies, sports, or other interests for which students describe having engaged in the activity of learning and compare our findings to learning in academic settings. We analyzed transcripts from semi-structured interviews with 17 engineering students. The interview was part of a larger study to understand engineering specific learning strategies. We see similarities in the behavioristic approach to learning through practice and reward in both the settings. However, important to note are the differences in learning in the two settings. We have described how engineering students often seem to value the coach or expert as a role model in non-academic settings, however, not many students seemed to equate faculty or academic coaches to serve as possible role models. Multiple students mentioned technology in helping them understand techniques and principles outside the classroom. However, the role of technology to aid in learning for concepts relevant inside the classroom was only highlighted by two participants. We believe that the findings from this research can inform engineering educators on successful strategies employed by engineering students in non-academic settings, and this in turn may be useful to incorporate in academic settings to improve student engagement and hence conceptual understanding.
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