Enabling students to plan their learning on placement using mobile technology

Written by Susie Macfarlane

While both academics and students on placement may be keen for students to use their personal mobile devices to make the most of their workplace learning (WPL) experiences there are a range of challenges they may face. These barriers include:

  1. Learning Design vs. Learning Reality

Students may engage in learning activities and assessment tasks in ways that are very different to how the learning designer intended; the substance of students’ learning may also differ markedly.

  1. Learning Agency

Students’ experiences of prescriptive educational experiences may inhibit their intrinsic motivation and agency to seek, design and integrate their own learning. Learning experiences can be designed to reinforce power relationships and generate compliance, or to encourage safe participation, shared decision making and student agency.

  1. Professional vs. student role

WPL is conceptualised as a site for the development of students’ professional identity, and social and cognitive practices. However students’ view of themselves may be dominated by their role as student, precluding their engaging in their professional community of practice and development as practitioners [1].

  1. Mobile technology

Students’ and staff levels of knowledge, experience and confidence in mobile technologies and learning vary enormously. Perceptions of acceptable practices with mobile devices vary widely across individuals, disciplinary contexts, and maturity of organisational technological implementation. Perceptions of acceptable and unacceptable practices and why may be negotiated with students (participation), discussed with (consultation), communicated to (informed) or only addressed through a breach of rules (disciplined).

  1. Responsibility for and approaches to learning

The roles and responsibility of academics, work place educators and students for students’ learning may not be identified and understood, and may vary with location, circumstance or time. In addition, each may hold their own theories of learning and these may not be consciously articulated or shared with others.

  1. Competition and collaboration

Traditional assessment practices in higher education evaluate the students’ individual performance, not their capacity to work with others to enhance workplace relationships and performance. Students involved in WPL may need guidance to learn to value collaboration, and to develop skills in collaborating with, learning from and mentoring colleagues.

Practice capabilities are to be learnt and further developed through WPL to deal with these barriers. Capability or ability to do something is based on knowledge and skills but also on the conditions students find in particular workplaces. This context includes physical, material, emotional, cultural aspects that together shape what is the best way to act in this situation [2].

Professions combine discipline-based knowledge and concepts (knowledge of), with practical knowledge and experience (knowing how) [3]. Developing practice knowledge and capabilities involves tactile, cognitive, emotional, personal and social elements [4].

A useful taxonomy of pedagogical methods [5] follows:

  • Self-study: students access GPS material without much additional guidance
  • Didactic: workplace context is explained, students are lectured on what to do, what not to do
  • Dialogic: opportunities are created for exploring the opportunities or issues through various kinds of structured or unstructured conversations
  • Communicative: online infrastructure is created to support and stimulate ongoing interaction between the students, academics and workplace educators during WPL
  • Participatory design: students are encouraged and supported to co-design mobile resources they may find useful for WPL.

Boud and Prosser [6] argue for the need to strategically plan activities to help students make the most of their learning experience using new technologies. An important step in conceptualizing curriculum design is to identify who designs, and how. Traditionally curriculum design is a task undertaken by academics, for students. To what extent is a student who obediently complies with instructional goals and methods designed by another, preparing adequately for the 21st century workplace? In their WPL, students will encounter informal, highly complex and ill-defined learning contexts and professional experiences. Involving students as active participants in designing their own learning provides them the opportunity to develop a sense of agency and the capability to plan, manage and reflect on their learning. Students who are guided to develop awareness of their existing technologies, digital literacies and other skills can design learning experiences that harness and develop their capabilities. Students can be encouraged and supported to reflect on their learning progress, and adapt their learning goals to meet emerging challenges and opportunities. Students can be encouraged to engage in collaboration, peer learning and networked learning, and to consider the affordances and risks of using mobile technologies to support these approaches in their particular workplace context.

Bovill and Bulley [7] developed the “Ladder of student participation in curriculum design” based on Arnstein’s [8] Ladder of Citizen Participation. The ladder provides a range of levels of student participation, ranging from the lowest level – Dictated curriculum to the highest – Students control the decision-making and have substantial influence. The highest level includes activities such as students designing learning outcomes and projects. The ladder provides academics, workplace educators and students with a useful benchmarking tool to identify together the existing, and desired, levels of student participation in their curriculum design practice.

Some curriculum design solutions include:

  1. Designing curriculum design
    Task: Teams of students, academics and workplace educators meet. Together they decide how students, academics and workplace educators will participate in designing their workplace learning.
    Resource: The ladder of student participation in curriculum design [7]
  2. Designing workplace learning
    Task: Individuals or teams of students design their own workplace learning curriculum. Academics and workplace educators participate as agreed in the first stage.
    Resource: The Designing Learning Experiences matrix in this pattern provides a framework for students to select learning methods (columns) and domains of learning (rows) that will be of most value to them.


[1] Wenger, E (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

[2] Walker, M (2005). Higher education pedagogies: A capabilities approach. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press.

[3] Eraut, M (1994) Developing Professional Knowledge and Competence, London, Falmer Press.

[4] Ellströem, P-E (1997) The many meanings of occupational competence and qualification. Journal of European Industrial training, 21(6/7): 266-274. http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/03090599710171567

[5] Markauskaite, L., & Goodyear, P. (2016, in press). Epistemic fluency and professional education: innovation, knowledgeable action and actionable knowledge. Dordrecht: Springer.

Chi, M. T. H. (2009). Active-Constructive-Interactive: A Conceptual Framework for Differentiating Learning Activities. Topics in Cognitive Science, 1(1), 73-105. doi: 10.1111/j.1756-8765.2008.01005.x

Chi, M. T. H., & Wylie, R. (2014). The ICAP Framework: Linking Cognitive Engagement to Active Learning Outcomes. Educational Psychologist, 49(4), 219-243. doi: 10.1080/00461520.2014.965823

[6] Boud, D, & Prosser, M. (2002). Appraising new technologies for learning: A framework for development. Educational Media International, 39(3-4), 237-245

[7] Bovill, C & Bulley, CJ (2011) A model of active student participation in curriculum design: exploring desirability and possibility. In Rust, C. Improving Student Learning (18) Global theories and local practices: institutional, disciplinary and cultural variations. Oxford: The Oxford Centre for Staff and Educational Development, pp176-188.

[8] Arnstein, SR (1969) A ladder of citizen participation, Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 35(4), 216-224.


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