Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education/Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Dwight E. Giles

Second Advisor

John Saltmarsh

Third Advisor

David T. Moore


The purpose of this study was to explore learning through the social construction of new knowledge by pharmacy students engaged in experiential learning. Academic leaders and practitioners are responding to calls for the redesign of experiential education that will better prepare future pharmacists for practice. This has broad implications for educational programs and health care delivery.

Situated learning theory served as the theoretical framework for this study. The previous research of Lave and Wenger (1991); Bailey, Hughes, and Moore (2004); and others guided this research. Situated learning theory informed the research questions, which focused on understanding how students constructed knowledge in a social setting.

An ethnographic approach was used to research context-based learning in this cultural setting. Four pharmacy students, who were on their clinical rotations, were chosen based on purposeful, criterion-based sampling. The methods employed for data collection included participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and document analysis. A narrative was composed as a way to document the learning experiences of the four students, and as a way for the data to emerge. Subsequent data analysis and interpretation led to the main findings of the study.

The study was informed by five factors that provided insights into the students' knowledge-construction process. They were (a) personal identity, (b) participation, (c) practitioners, (d) context, and (e) content. Findings included the importance of the personal identity of the students, the level and type of participation by the students as determined the clinical instructors, the ability of students to make a genuine contribution to the practice, and the relationship of context to content.

This new understanding of situated learning has implications for the entire field of experiential education. These findings can guide us in designing internships and service-learning programs for students who are enrolled in educational institutions. For the profession of pharmacy, a well-developed experiential program will enable new pharmacists to meet the many challenges of providing high-quality patient-centered care and of navigating a complex health care delivery system.