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 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 research participants and their communities. 

The Lab is interdisciplinary, combining lifespan 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 in Learning

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 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. 

Lifespan Engagement in Education  

A person's sustained engagement in education of any type, including compulsory schooling, university, open education, private tuition, and self-directed education, can build across the lifespan. People become invested in an educational activity when they feel connected and committed to it, when their goals support it, and when their identity merges with it. 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). Studies within this theme in the ELSS Lab focus on how people's educational engagement develops in relation to context, culture and lived experience.

Eudaimonic Engagement

People can develop their eudaimonia (a sense of purpose and active engagement in life) through learning about things that matter to them, developing their competencies, and contributing to society. This topic is relevant to research on character education, purpose, sense of calling, meaningfulness, career development, and flourishing. Studies on eudaimonic engagement in the lab include the lifespan development of motivation and identity, motivation of student teachers to teach, and evaluation of programs for supporting eudaimonia in young people. Currently the lab is collaborating with Young Social Innovators to research their social innovation education program for adolescents.


Being engaged in learning, working, and contributing to society is a component of individual wellbeing. Wellbeing has been described as optimal human functioning (mental and physical). Psychological wellbeing 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 and secondary levels through the new NCCA frameworks for wellbeing. Researchers in the ELSS Lab are studying student wellbeing as it relates to these national educational frameworks, pedagogy and school cultures.  

Transfer & Transitions

Age-graded changes in environment, such as changing schools or moving from school to college, create a set of continuities and discontinuities that can impact individual development. The transition process creates a window for researchers to view how the interactions of biology and culture impact human development, for example consider how the self-esteem of adolescent girls develops at the intersection of puberty, adolescence, and school transition. 

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

Engagement Promotion 


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. 

© 2019 by Jennifer E. Symonds. Home page image courtesy of Kat Jayne. 

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