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Learning and Design Specialization

Learning and Design Doctoral Specialization

The Learning Design doctoral specialization prepares students to research, design, study, and develop theoretical understandings of learning activities and environments. Our interdisciplinary approach foregrounds inclusiveness, agency, and meaningful (disciplinary) engagement in recognizing how race, gender, and economic inequality shape both the what and how of learning. Thus our teaching and research examines how people learn (or not) in existing social, cultural, and political contexts, and looks to disrupt systems and ideologies of social inequality in these arrangements through the design of equitable and just opportunities to learn.

Who You Will Work With

Our faculty are recognized nationally and internationally for advancing new theories of learning, new approaches to engaged and responsive pedagogy, designing novel environments and technologies, and using this work to support productive engagement with subject matter disciplines. For example, some research projects focus in-depth on particular settings (e.g., classrooms or museums), while others follow learners and learning moving across multiple settings (e.g., between home, school and community settings). Further, research and teaching in this area traverse multiple domains of conceptual practice (e.g., advancing new forms of digital literacy, creating public history, exploring arts or craft-based creative activities). Finally, our work has both an international scope and engages directly with the community of Nashville, working with youth and adults in area schools or in a variety of community partnerships (e.g., public libraries, community service organizations, museums, and professional development organizations).

Many of our faculty work closely with faculty of the practice (e.g., teaching faculty in areas of philosophy, social studies, and digital literacy), who also serve on doctoral students’ dissertation committees. Prospective students are encouraged to explore faculty websites, read research conducted by our faculty and students, and contact faculty directly.

How You Will Be Funded

Doctoral students are fully funded for as many as five years, depending on their prior academic training and continuing progress in their studies.

What You Can Expect to Accomplish

Students in Learning and Design work intensively with faculty mentors in varied programs of research that address learning across the life span, and are engaged in a range of courses to broaden and deepen their understandings of learning, teaching, and design. Students can expect to study multiple theories of learning, teaching, inequality, and human experience; to become familiar with a range of methodologies for conducting research; to work closely with peers in coursework; and to present and publish research at conferences and in education research journals.

We offer a cohort and apprenticeship model of research-intensive doctoral training. To begin their scholarly career, the incoming cohort of doctoral students takes a small number of required courses together during their first two years. Courses include participation in topical faculty research groups, where beginning students are expected to interact with more advanced students and faculty as they develop new research in the field. During the second year, students work with faculty advisors to choose elective coursework that will support their emerging research interests. After the second year, students work intensively with faculty and peers to develop, conduct, and publish research in their area of interest. Students are expected to present and publish research at conferences and in leading journals, usually with their faculty advisors and peers, as they complete the doctoral program.

A Professional Life Beyond L&D

Many of our students take faculty positions in research-intensive universities after completing the Ph.D. Some choose academic positions in which teaching, program development, or evaluation studies are central aspects of their work. Our students also take research positions in state, federal, or private organizations. Faculty and our university administration support students as they enter a competitive job market, and we encourage doctoral students to remain a part of the Vanderbilt community throughout their career. Prospective students are encouraged to examine the career paths of our recent graduates, who are usually willing to describe their experience as learners in our doctoral program.