The theory of meaningful engagement is a philosophy of education that draws together research by Steve Dillon and myself. It represents a significant shift in educational philosophy with its emphasis on education as primarily concerned with the development of a student’s awareness of their relationship and interactions with others and the world. That is, how they manage their engagements with the world to maximise the meaningfulness of their lives. This is contrasted to previous philosophies of education that focus on the acquisition, construction or management of knowledge. The theory of meaningful engagement acknowledges the 21st century reality that knowledge (at least information) is abundant, if not overwhelming, and that reorganisations of epistemological frameworks are no longer sufficient as educational reform. Rather the theory suggests that education is primarily an ontological endeavour in which students seek ways to live well, upon which decisions about relevant and timely knowledge and skills can be made and acted upon.
Modes of Engagement
Appreciating: listening carefully to music and analysing music representations.
Selecting: Making decisions about musical value and relationships
Directing: Managing music making activities
Exploring: Searching through musical possibilities and assessing their value
Intuiting: Engrossed in fluent music making
Types of Meaning
Personal: The activity is intrinsically enjoyable.
Social: Through activity the user develops relationships with others.
Cultural: The community value activity and, by participating (or succeeding) in it, the student achieves a sense that they too are important.
Meaningful Engagement Matrix
Intersections between these modes and types can depicted as a matrix showing the space of possible meaningful engagements with creative activities such as music.
The theory was most fully outlined in relation to music composition in a 2021 chapter co-authored by Steve Dillon titled Meaningful Engagement with Music Composition.
Brown, Andrew R., and Steve Dillon. 2012. “Meaningful Engagement with Music Composition.” In The Act of Musical Composition: Studies in the Creative Process, edited by David Collins, 79–110. Surrey, UK: Ashgate.