The necessity for practical work-based learning
Students benefit from a practice-based, active education informed by innovative research that equips them with the knowledge and skills they need to be employable upon graduating. Gaining high quality on-the-job experience is vital for students as it enables them to enhance and progress their skills and conform to a constantly developing environment.
I once believed that teaching and learning were one and the same. I taught and students learned. I delivered lectures and students received the knowledge content. I consistently gave students varied tasks of assignment completion, presentations, performances, group solving problems, and much more. The teaching and learning was diverse, fun, interactive and successful. Yet, in my humble opinion, the practical work-based experience reaped the best rewards – understanding, impact, collaboration, empathy, enthusiasm, interest and knowledge. Many of those who know me, know that I am also a fan of telling stories. I tell stories as part of my teaching. Real stories that demonstrate impact and positive transformation. Interesting stories that make students listen to the end. Stories that change perception and opinion. Storytelling works well with students and is very beneficial. But only I had the direct interaction. The students merely imagined my experiences.
One of my students was recently granted a music placement with a popular inclusive music ensemble. The student, originally from Greece, decided to spend several years in the UK studying as she was impressed with course options, opportunities, and the diverse learning opportunities. Several months into her studies she began to show agitation and frustration. She had a deep desire to experience the stories that I shared. She appreciated the knowledge transfer and the varied assignments, yet so desperately wanted to gain practical experience. And she did. The practical experience has allowed the student to reap a range of skills, recognise capabilities, consolidate her interests, and challenge her potential. It has provided confirmation of her interest in this area and her dedication to equipping herself with additional knowledge, understanding and expertise. Moreover, the practical experience has allowed the music ensemble to learn, grow and develop. The placement student brought an additional dimension to the weekly rehearsals. She trialled Greek music compositions and narratives which the ensemble was unfamiliar with. She brought rich cultural diversity and shared Greek music traditions. The placement experience was one of active learning, collaboration and growth for both the ensemble and the placement student.
Teaching and learning are indeed two completely separate things and the completed tasks and assignments that I received were not the results barometers I thought they could be. I was unaware if the students understood. Fully understood. I was unaware if the students would carry this knowledge forward into their careers. I was unsure if impact was being made. From the student perspective, placements have the potential to have a positive impact. Research suggests that work placements are extremely valuable to students, both in terms of their academic performance and their employability skills. Placements offer students the chance to gain skills directly related to their subject or industry of choice as well as the employability skills required for real-life work. High quality placements can also increase the student’s knowledge of an industry or sector, allowing them to make improved opinions about future career choices. Team-based working, which provides a refreshing comparison to the commonly more individual-centred academic approach, offers a different experience for the student. This experience is valuable and enhances self-determination, organisational, and problem solving skills. A further constructive output for students is to adequately evidence their placement experiences on their CV, documenting contextual proof of their skills, strengths and abilities, coupled with a reference.
On occasion, a work placement can lead directly to successive employment following a student’s graduation. Students may gain regular opportunities to liaise with other professionals while on placement. Such networking opportunities are highly beneficial. Research suggests that work placements can have a compelling economic impact on graduates throughout their careers, and contribute to enhanced social manoeuvrability and achievement in life. Work experience assists healthy retention and achievement rates. Students actively experience. It also improves an institution’s prominence for graduate employment as high quality work experience are recognised in improving student employability. Therefore, institutions reap the benefits by securing more satisfied students and graduates who have an improved education experience. Furthermore, an employer is more likely to come back each year with placement opportunities in addition to seeking innovative links with the institution if a placement experience is of high quality. Employers take work placements extremely seriously. They regard such experiences as an opportunity to advance the skill set of students. Their corporate social responsibilities add necessary skill sharing that is vital to the future of their industry.
Placement students frequently bring new ideas, methods, and suggestions to a business which adds powerful value to the organisation.
Ultimately, a student’s work placement should be one of high quality and should add an extra dimension to their learning. It should also offer practical experience to enhance a student’s skills and provide dynamic opportunities for progression in knowledge and interest. Furthermore, a student’s work placement should be carefully researched and chosen, providing benefits for both student and employer.