Engagement in Learning, Schools and Societies

Welcome to the Engagement in Learning, Schools and Societies Lab (ELSS Lab) led by Associate Professor Jennifer Symonds at the University College Dublin School of Education. Our objectives and core themes are listed below. 


The ELSS Lab's mission is to help explain and enhance young people's engagement in learning and education, to support wellbeing in individuals and in societies. The Lab is highly collaborative, working with an international network of researchers, practitioners and schools. It prioritises the voices and rights of young people and their communities. 

The Lab is interdisciplinary, combining life-span developmental psychology, educational psychology, biological and cultural anthropology, and educational research. If you would like to know more about the Lab’s research, please browse these pages! You can also contact us and download our publications.

Momentary Engagement 

Momentary engagement in learning is the transitory process of being involved in an activity that promotes knowledge acquisition and consolidation, for example, solving a mathematics problem or creating a model. In the ELSS Lab we are interested in how young people experience and manage their momentary engagement in learning as they are doing different types of activities, and in how momentary engagement leads to learning. We are working on a framework of momentary engagement as a dynamic system of motivation, emotion and mental and physical action that occurs in context. Together with our international colleagues we are testing models of engagement in learning occurring in momentary time. 

Educational Engagement 

A person's sustained engagement in educational activity (such as attending school, college or training) can build across the lifespan. People become invested in educational activity when they feel connected and committed, when their goals support the activity, and when their identity merges with the activity. Engaging with education is a sociocultural process, impacted by community values and practices, and by social structures (such as qualifications' frameworks and provision of job opportunities) that encourage and hinder educational participation. Studies within this theme in the ELSS Lab focus on how individual young people's educational engagement develops in relation to context, culture and lived experience. 

Educational Participation

The third research theme concerns the frequency and prevalence of young people’s participation in schools, colleges and workplaces. Key topics include educational drop out, truancy and absenteeism. Young people’s career pathways and their early emergence in childhood are also of interest, as these can impact patterns of educational participation. Current research on this theme involves establishing how momentary engagement, educational engagement and participation interact at different points in young people's educational careers to impact their life chances. 

Student Wellbeing

Being engaged in learning and education is a component of  individual student wellbeing. Wellbeing has been described as optimal human functioning (mental and physical). It can be understood as the experience of positive emotions and life satisfaction (hedonia) and actualizing human potential through being engaged in activities that generate a sense of purpose and meaning (eudaimonia). In Ireland, progressive educational reform has incorporated wellbeing into the national curriculum, at primary level through the Aistear framework and at lower secondary level through the Junior Cycle Wellbeing framework. Researchers in the ELSS Lab are studying student wellbeing as it relates to these national educational frameworks, pedagogy and school cultures.  

Transfer & Transitions

The above themes of momentary engagement, educational engagement, educational participation and student wellbeing are studied in relation to developmental and organisational transitions including the transfer from primary to secondary schooling (the mid-schooling transfer), transition from school to college or work (the school-to-work transition), transition as people move countries (studies of migrant families) and the transition from middle childhood to early adolescence. 

Core collaborators on the transitions strand include the Research Centre for Transformative Change: Educational and Life Transitions at the University of Dundee [TCELT]

Educational Interventions

Inspired by the above themes, the Lab experiments with different methods for helping people develop their ability to engage more deeply with schoolwork, studying and working. Recently these have included the Professional Student Programme for Educational Resilience (PROSPER) and the Level Up career competencies intervention. Both are universal school-based interventions focused on helping young people overcome barriers to engagement through psychoeducation. These interventions are open educational resources designed for classroom teachers and their students, and can be downloaded from our projects and publications pages.