Tag Archives: Engineering

So how do people learn?

Here’s the next in the CALE series.  When designing a learning environment that supports the acquisition of knowledge by all of our students, we need to think about the different ways that people learn.  In the 1970s, Kolb developed his learning style inventory which is illustrated in the diagram above.  Approaches to learning are plotted on two axes: on the horizontal axis is learning by watching at one end and learning by doing at the other; while on the vertical axis is learning by feeling at one end and learning by thinking at the opposite end.  Kolb proposed that people tend to learn by a pair of these attributes, i.e. by watching and feeling, or watching and thinking, or doing and thinking, or doing and feeling, so that an individual can be categorised into one of the four quadrants.  Titles are given to each type of learning as shown in the quadrants, i.e. Divergers, Assimilators, Convergers and Accommodators.

In practice, it seems unlikely that many of us remain in one of these quadrants though we might have a preference for one of them.  Honey and Mumford [1992] proposed that learning is most effective when we rotate around the learning modes represented in the quadrants, as shown in the diagram below.  Starting in the doing & feeling quadrant by have an experience and being an Activist, moving to the feeling & watching quadrant by reviewing the experience as a Reflector, then in watching and thinking mode, drawing conclusions from the experience as a Theorist, culminating with planning the next steps as a Pragmatist in the thinking and doing quadrant before repeating the rotation.

There are other ideas about how we learn but these are two of the classic theories, which I have found useful in creating a learning environment that is dynamic and involves cycling students around Honey and Mumford’s learning modes.


Kolb DA, Learning style inventory technical manual. McBer & Co., Boston, MA, 1976.

Honey P & Mumford A. The Manual of Learning Styles 3rd Ed. Peter Honey Publications Limited, Maidenhead, 1992.


CALE #3 [Creating A Learning Environment: a series of posts based on a workshop given periodically by Pat Campbell and Eann Patterson in the USA supported by NSF and the UK supported by HEA]

Mapping atoms

Typical atom maps of P, Cu, Mn, Ni & Si (clockwise from bottom centre) in 65x65x142 nm sample of steel from Styman et al, 2015.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the opening plenary talk at the NNL Sci-Tec conference [‘The disrupting benefit of innovation’ on May 23rd, 2018].  One of the innovations discussed at the conference was the applications of atom probe tomography for understanding the mechanisms underpinning material behaviour.  Atom probe tomography produces three-dimensional maps of the location and type of individual atoms in a sample of material.  It is a destructive technique that uses a high energy pulse to induce field evaporation of ions from the tip of a needle-like sample.  A detector senses the position of the ions and their chemical identity is found using a mass spectrometer.  Only small samples can be examined, typically of the order of 100nm.

A group led by Jonathan Hyde at NNL have been exploring the use of atom probe tomography to understand the post-irradiation annealing of weld material in reactor pressure vessels and to examine the formation of bubbles of rare gases in fuel cladding which trap hydrogen causing material embrittlement.  A set of typical three-dimensional maps of atoms is shown in the thumb-nail from a recent paper by the group (follow the link for the original image).

It is amazing that we can map the location of atoms within a material and we are just beginning to appreciate the potential applications of this capability.  As another presenter at the conference said: ‘Big journeys begin with Iittle steps’.

BTW it was rewarding to see one of our alumni from our CPD course [see ‘Leadership is like shepherding’ on May 10th, 2017] presenting this work at the conference.


Styman PD, Hyde JM, Parfitt D, Wilford K, Burke MG, English CA & Efsing P, Post-irradiation annealing of Ni-Mn-Si-enriched clusters in a neutron-irradiated RPV steel weld using atom probe tomography, J. Nuclear Materials, 459:127-134, 2015.

Third time lucky

At the end of last year my research group had articles published by the Royal Society’s journal  Open Science in two successive months [see ‘Press Release!‘ on November 15th, 2017 and ‘Slow moving nanoparticles‘ on December 13th, 2017].  I was excited about both publications because I had only had one article published before by the Royal Society and because the Royal Society issues a press release whenever it publishes a new piece of science.  However, neither press release generated any interest from anyone; probably because science does not sell newspapers (or attract viewers) unless it is bad news or potentially life-changing.  And our work on residual stress around manufactured holes in aircraft or on the motion of nanoparticles does not match either of these criteria.

Last month, we did it again with an article on ‘An experimental study on the manufacture and characterization of in-plane fibre-waviness defects in composites‘.  Third time lucky, because this time our University press office were interested enough to write a piece for the news page of the University website, entitled ‘Engineers develop new method to recreate fibre waviness defects in lab‘.  Fibre waviness is an issue in the manufacture of structural components of aircraft using carbon fibre reinforced composites because kinks or waves in the fibres can cause structural weaknesses.  As part of his PhD, supported by Airbus and the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Will Christian developed an innovative technique to generate defects in our lab so that we can gain a better understanding of them. Read the article or the press release to find out more!

Image shows fracture through a waviness-defect in the top-ply of a carbon-fibre laminate observed in a microscope following sectioning after failure.


Christian WJR, DiazDelaO FA, Atherton K & Patterson EA, An experimental study on the manufacture and characterisation of in-plane fibre-waviness defects in composites, R. Soc. open sci. 5:180082, 2018.

Formative experiences

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how we all arrive in the classroom with different experiences that are strongly influenced by the conditions in our formative years.  When I talk about this process in workshops on teaching, I invite attendees to tell us about something that has influenced their approach to learning.  However, I kick-off by sharing one of mine: I joined the Royal Navy straight from school and so I arrived at University having painted the white line down the centre of the flight deck of an aircraft carrier but also having flown a jet.  This meant that my experience of dynamics was somewhat different to most of my peers.  It’s amazing the life experiences that are revealed when we go around the room at these workshops.  Feel free to share your experiences and how they influence your learning using the comments section below.

CALE #2 [Creating A Learning Environment: a series of posts based on a workshop given periodically by Pat Campbell and Eann Patterson in the USA supported by NSF and the UK supported by HEA]

Photo by Pedro Aragao [Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported]