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Peter Alcott

Page history last edited by sceptrept 13 years, 10 months ago

Learning in the Workplace: How can we help students reflect on their experiences?

Peter Alcott, School of Management Faculty of Management and Law University of Surrey


The University of Surrey professional training (PT) experience enables students to spend a year in professional work environment. Developing capacity for reflection on everyday work experiences is key deriving the maximum benefit from the placement experience. During a SCEPTrE Fellowship I evaluated the life-wide learning, self-development and creative thinking in problem solving that is achievable by students undertaking professional training placements and the benefit to them of learning reflective practice in order to understand how much they have learned. This learning is hugely valuable but is only recognised when it is drawn out of formative reflective conversations during the tutors’ professional training visit. 


Students undertaking a PT year often under estimate the level of social interaction that frontline roles in the service sector require, in fact many are totally naive about what skills they need to develop in order to manage, sometimes awkward situations or respond to apparently difficult people. They lack the ‘soft skills’ and also fail to understand the need to acquire these skills.


Students’ people relationship skills in the workplace environment are generally underdeveloped and often they fail to consider or to reflect upon their own personality traits and how these can affect their workplace relationships. Reflection on the workplace mindset is rarely considered, yet without a true understanding of company culture and organisational complexity it is difficult to function as a team player.


There appears to be little awareness of the drivers that influence the organisational mindset, and many issues can be clouded by misinterpretation, misinformation or hidden agendas. How can we bring about change and support our students through this often very difficult learning curve that requires effective interaction between the student and other people they have to deal with in their work?


A placement student who is faced by a negative personal experience will in most cases take it personally, react emotionally and look for support from someone.


The support could come from a family member, in which case it may be an emotional response, a work colleague, who may have their own agenda or their professional training tutor there to help the student learn from the experience in a creative and intelligent way. This course of action and support is easy to suggest but sometimes more difficult to achieve. Constraints of time, ability and skill to help, of being interested or even noticing that something is not quite right can all create difficulties for the visiting tutor.


The approach that I have adopted and developed to help me resolve many of these issues is what I term ‘the deep reflective approach’ which is not to resolve the issue for the student but to enable the student to resolve the issue for themselves


My experience has been that you can’t dress this up – you have to analyse the problem as openly as possible – the student themselves maybe their own worst enemy and to support my endeavours I have developed a Template for Inducing Reflection a creative approach to problem resolution. The session will focus on the my use of this reflective tool with students in difficult relational situations.


Key words: creative thinking, reflective practice, reflective tool, social interaction, organisational complexity, workplace mindsets.





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