Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Sarah J. Noonan

Second Advisor

Karen L. Westberg

Third Advisor

David W. Peterson


This qualitative, phenomenological study investigated the perceptions of 16 adults regarding their learning experiences while enrolled as high school students in journalism or engineering classes. The study focused on students' participation in these applied learning experiences, and the effects on the initial and subsequent development of "engaging mindsets", also known as noncognitive mindsets (self-efficacy, belief in effort-based achievement, sense of belonging, and appreciating the value and meaning of work), in their post-secondary educational and career experiences.

Participants described seven factors of the learning environment positively affecting their learning and future growth: complex, open-ended problem solving; choice and creativity; student independence; real world relevance; products or performances for authentic audiences; relationship and collaboration skill development; and the shifted role of the teacher. Participants conveyed four key enduring effects of applied learning experiences carrying forward into their adulthood: increased autonomy, cognitive freedom, and willingness to take risks; appreciation for collaborative, empowering relationships; meaningful self-discovery; and a greater sense of purpose.

I analyzed the participants' reflections through the lens of three theoretical frameworks: educational theories related to applied learning environment design, self-determination theory regarding universal psychological needs, and theories looking at the importance of authentic, real world experiences.

I discovered applied learning might hold promise for developing engaging mindsets. Applied learning creates an educational structure teachers can follow, contains elements that fulfill universal psychological needs, and includes important, authentic, real world connections for students.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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