Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Everybody wins? Using the workplace as an arena for learning

an article by Chrissy Ogilvie and Gill Homan (Manchester Metropolitan University Business School) published in Higher Education, Skills and Work-based Learning Volume 2 Issue 2 (2012)


The purpose of this paper is to explore the opportunities provided by the workplace as an arena for learning and academic credit for first year undergraduates at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School. The research focuses on the evaluation of a work-based learning (WBL) module designed for full-time business students who are working part time to fund their progress through university.
Primary reflective data were gathered in a structured evaluation from a cohort of 85 participating students at the end of the WBL module. A self-selected sample of 14 of these students provided additional data through questionnaires and interviews. Material was also captured from tutor reflections and some employers who volunteered comments. Recent literature on WBL was reviewed.
Some recent literature suggests that part-time work has a detrimental effect on student study and attainment. However the findings of this research revealed both anticipated and unexpected benefits, not just for the students but other stakeholders. Students liked the flexible delivery and the opportunity to learn in the workplace rather than the classroom. Students also reported short and longer term career benefits as a result of doing WBL and a boost in job motivation. In addition, there were development opportunities for tutors, employers and the employing business.
Research limitations/implications
The research was limited to one cohort and was also undertaken by the tutors and not independent researchers. The sample was self selected and was not representative. Employer feedback was limited and possibly unreliable. However, there is clear evidence of positive enthusiasm for this mode of learning and the rich seam of learning opportunities for all parties in this mode of undergraduate delivery deserves more research.
Practical implications
Given the economic necessity for full-time students to engage in part-time employment, this form of WBL that carries academic credit can greatly enhance the curriculum of business students. Linked to the employability agenda WBL could also be included in the curriculum of students taking non-vocational degrees and this University is currently exploring this development. Working students are offered an alternative form of learning delivery which supports their complex lives by being flexible and perhaps meets the learning preferences of pragmatists and activists more than the traditional classroom.
Social implications
There is evidence that students who engage in WBL are more motivated and committed employees. They have also contributed to improvements in their workplaces in areas around waste, “green issues” and health and safety. All students, but particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can use their part-time employment as an asset rather than a hindrance to learning, thus supporting widening participation in higher education. Employers are encouraged to use the intellectual abilities of their student employees to mutual advantage.
The design of the WBL unit and the research is original to the authors. All secondary sources are cited.

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