Higher Education

, Volume 55, Issue 3, pp 321–332 | Cite as

Alienation and engagement: development of an alternative theoretical framework for understanding student learning

  • Jennifer M. CaseEmail author


In this paper it is suggested that the themes of alienation and engagement offer a productive alternative perspective for characterising the student experience of learning in higher education, compared to current dominant perspectives such as that offered by approaches to learning and related concepts. A conceptual and historical background of the concept of alienation is presented, followed by an overview of some contemporary perspectives. Drawing on this literature, a framework is then developed for characterising student learning. It comprises three categories, referring to the alienation resulting from 1. entering the higher education community, 2. fitting into the higher education community, and 3. staying in the higher education community. Each category has an associated set of theoretical tools that can be drawn upon in analysing this aspect of the student experience.


Alienation Engagement Student learning Tertiary education Approaches to learning 



Important critical input towards the development of this paper has been received from my colleagues in the Centre for Research in Engineering Education (CREE). I would also like to acknowledge the financial support from the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Chemical EngineeringUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa

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