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Poppy Turner

Page history last edited by sceptrept 13 years, 11 months ago

How can we tell the difference between good placements and those that are not so good?

Poppy Turner, Independent researcher and consultant


Work placements can be powerful promoters of professional learning.  They usually involve two or three parties.  An employer or host institution provides the placement opportunity.  If the new professional is an undergraduate, their university or higher education institution may facilitate their placement.  Last but not least, there is the placement student or graduate embarking on their professional career.  There are different motivations underlying the involvement of these three stakeholders and different definitions of what constitutes a good placement.


For employers, the National Council for Work Experience has a Quality Mark (QM) standard for assessing placements.  The QM booklet mentions learning but sees the purpose of a good placement as “developing the future workforce and enhancing student employability”.  In the Higher Education sector, the Quality Assurance Agency Code of Practice, Section 9, sets precepts (rules or commandments) against which university placement schemes are assessed.  This too claims to be about learning but focuses on universities’ management of placements, for which they are held accountable at institutional audit.


How, then, can we analyse and evaluate professional learning from work placements and the role of individual placement environments in promoting or inhibiting it?  Employers often have competency frameworks or performance indicators to evaluate the capabilities and sometimes the behaviours they require in their placement students and graduate recruits.  Universities assess students’ performance against expected ‘learning outcomes’ by learning log, work journal, portfolio, poster or PowerPoint presentation, project report/ dissertation, interview/viva, supervisor’s report etc.  However, these external measures used by employers and universities do not get to the core of learning.  Both constructivist learning theories and neuroscience agree that learning is internal.  It is therefore necessary to explore students’ perspectives of their placement learning and development if we are to identify those elements of professional experience that enhance or inhibit it and tell the good placements from the not so good. This paper outlines a qualitative methodology, derived from research into placement students’ perspectives, including an empirically-derived analytical framework (based both on Socio-Cultural and Activity Theories of learning and on Theories of Action), which seems to provide a useful approach to the evaluation of placement learning.  This methodology is informative on the reasons why placements promote professional learning and, as importantly, reveals why some students report learning very little of value from their placement situations and hence provides some clues to areas that could be improved. 


Key words  Professional learning, placement learning, analysis/evaluation


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