Date of Award

May 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Wilkistar Otieno

Second Advisor

Gerald Alred

Committee Members

Dave Clark, Rachel Spilka, Sammis White


Business, Engineering, Millennial Undergraduate Student, Situated Learning, Workplace Ethics


Undergraduate ethics instruction in business and engineering can be broadly divided into two models – disciplinary ethics (integrated within a course where discussions about ethics pertain to a particular profession or discipline) and standalone ethics (where the concept of ethics and ethical conduct are discussed in broad, theoretical terms). While both these models have educational value, they have not been able to help the millennial undergraduate student with everyday routine ethical decision making that they might encounter in the workplace. This is largely because both these models do not consider the organizational or the cultural context (the context in which learning will eventually be used) in their discussions. Ignoring the cultural context, say situated learning theorists, limits the transfer of learning to practice. Because formal, classroom education, unlike apprenticeships (how learning traditionally took place before colleges and universities came on the scene), separates the learning from the doing, deliberate pedagogical methods need to be used that help connect knowledge to practice.

In this study, I investigate the merits of using cognitive apprenticeship, a situated learning model, as a way to help business and engineering undergraduate students make a connection between classroom learning of everyday workplace ethics and its application in their future places of employment. Situated learning, sometimes referred to as situated cognition or everyday cognition considers learning as it happens in everyday authentic circumstances making use of concrete tools (psychological and technical resources) provided by the cultural context to acquire and apply knowledge. These cultural tools or cultural referents, as Choi and Hannafin (1995) calls them, can especially be helpful to the new millennial professional in identifying and dealing with routine ethical scenarios in the workplace.

The study was conducted at a large, urban, mid-western public university in the US. The study participants included graduating seniors of a supply chain class and capstone students of a mechanical engineering class. The results of this partly quasi-experimental and partly qualitative study indicate that students who had prior work experience and prior ethics instruction found the situated learning experience equally enabling as did those who did not. The quantitative results indicate that there was a statistically significant increase in the students’ understanding of everyday ethical scenarios and the qualitative results overwhelmingly indicate that the students valued the situated instruction because it gave them an understanding of ‘real-world’ application of everyday ethics.