Cultural Studies of Science Education

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 89–104 | Cite as

Studying science and engineering learning in practice

  • William R. PenuelEmail author


A key goal of science and engineering education is to provide opportunities for people to access, interpret, and make use of science and engineering to address practical human needs. Most education research, however, focuses on how best to prepare students in schools to participate in forms of science and engineering practices that resemble those of disciplinary experts. In this paper, I argue that education research is needed that focuses on how people use science and engineering in social practices as part of collective efforts to transform cultural and economic production. Drawing on social practice theory, I argue that learning inheres in such activities, not only because people access and make use of science knowledge and develop repertoires for participating in science and engineering practices, but also because participation in such activities transforms the ways that people imagine themselves and expands their possibilities for action. Research can inform and support these efforts, both directly and indirectly, by giving an account of the conditions for science and engineering learning and by diagnosing inequities in access to science and engineering for addressing pressing human needs.


Social practice theory Science Engineering Production 



I would like to thank Annie Allen, Margaret Eisenhart, Katie Taylor, Rogers Hall, Susan Jurow, Wolff-Michael Roth, and two anonymous reviewers for their critical comments and feedback on this manuscript. I also wish to thank Lynn Dierking and John Falk for inviting me to participate in the special issue and for providing me with the opportunity to think more deeply about learning and becoming in activity.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Educational Psychology and Learning SciencesUniversity of Colorado BoulderBoulderUSA

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