Thematic analysis of influencers on continuing professional learning of tenure track engineering faculty as assistant professors at an RU/VH institution

James Edwin Cawthorne, Purdue University


“Although the need for lifelong learning of professionals is stressed through university education, the patent differences between learning as a student, within a controlled framework focusing on accessible outcomes, and learning as a professional have not been clarified” (Webster-Wright, 2009, p. 708). Assistant professors are entry level professionals in academia who been prepared through their extensive education process to be lifelong learners and yet it is unknown how these assistant professors are engaging, or being engaged by others, in continuing their professional learning (CPL) for short-term and long-term success in academia as a career. This study aimed to understand who and/or what influenced tenure-track engineering faculty’s continuing professional learning early in their career. An exploratory qualitative thematic analysis was conducted using responses to semi-structured interviews from 13 tenure-track engineering faculty members at a Carnegie classified as Research Universities (very high research activity) institution about their professional development experiences when they were assistant professors. A stratified purposeful criterion sampling strategy was employed to maximize the diversity in background and experiences participants brought to the study. The results that emerged from the data was that the influencers of CPL were (1) institutional impacts on learning, (2) self-directed learning, (3) socially constructed learning, and (4) mentored learning. The findings identified within the themes was that (1) no one dominant pathway existed in the continuing professional learning of tenure-track engineering faculty as assistant professors; and (2) the four influencers – institution impacts on learning, self-directed learning, socially constructed learning, and mentored learning – can be combined in multiple ways to construct the continuing professional learning experience for an individual faculty member. A series of metaphorical equations were constructed to model the collective continuing professional learning of an individual faculty member including the detailed contribution of the individual influencers. Additionally, a framework for constructing CPL environments was proposed as an adaptation of Bransford’s How People Learn (HPL) framework. The researcher acknowledges this was an exploratory qualitative research study with a small, specialized sample size (N=13) so these findings are not generalizable to the larger population of faculty, engineering faculty, or professionals.




Cox, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Continuing education|Higher education

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