ERG SES D 03, Higher Education
Work placements and supervised work experience have increasingly become an important area of educational policy (European Commission, 2013). Placements are believed to improve students’ employability (Auburn, 2007) by making the transition from school to work smoother (European Commission, 2013) and by providing benefits such as the reduction of a cultural shock (Jackson, 2014), better access to work communities of practice and the tools they use (Stanley, 2013), and, the development of generic skills and personal attributes (Wilton, 2012).
The focus on placements as an instrument towards employability can also be explained by the belief coming from several stakeholders, including parents, students and employers, that education should prepare graduates for the world of work (Jackson, 2014) and that graduate’s employability is Higher Education Institutions’ wider responsibility (Cole and Tibby, 2013). This pressure on Higher Education coming from the private sector is further reinforced by Governments and international organizations that advocate for the private and social benefits of more education (inter alia, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2013; OECD 2013, 2012; UNESCO, 2013). However, others criticize this focus on employability for its narrow view of the transition between University and the world of work and for the instrumental purpose of graduates’ education (Atkins, 1999) and marketization of education (Wolf, 2002).
Despite these opposing views, placements are an important instrument to investigate students’ transitions between Higher Education and the workplace and to assess the relevance of the widely advocated benefits of placements for graduates’ employability and their claimed smooth transition.
Here, I propose to investigate students’ University to work-placement transitions by using a learning transfer model as an analytical framework. Within this model, learning transfer is defined as a consequential and developmental process of transformation, experienced by individuals, regarding their knowledge, their behaviours and their identities. Consequently, the learning transfer model is formed of three interrelated dimensions, knowledge, self, and social interactions, and each of these is supported by physical and conceptual mediational means that either exist in the context or are created by the individuals. Context, framed here as a community of practices (Wenger, 1998; Lave and Wenger, 2001) is also a relevant aspect of the model as it frames all the actions and further reinforces the social and contextual feature of the model. These dimensions were developed from literature on transfer and from an attempt to integrate relevant contributions from classical (Thorndike, 1906; Woodworth and Thorndike, 1901), cognitive (Bereiter,1990) and situated perspectives on transfer (Beach 2003) and tested against empirical data coming from interviews and observations of students undergoing a placement year.
The following research questions directed the questioning that supports this paper:
- 1. How do students experience the transition between Higher Education and the workplace in their placements?
- 2. In what way and to what extent are students’ experiences congruent with the developed learning transfer model?
- a. Do students transfer different types of knowledge to the workplace?
- b. Which tools (artifacts) do students use to promote their transfer?
- c. Do students consider social interactions relevant to their transfer and in what way?
- d. Do students adapt their identity as a student to a professional identity and in what way?
- e. Do students experience intercontextuality between Higher Education and the workplace and in what way?
- f. Are context features relevant to their transfer and in what way?
- 3. In what way are student´s experiences and understandings of the transition between Higher Education and the workplace congruent with the employability framework provided by Human Capital Theory?
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