How can students appropriately use online networks to stay engaged with their learning while on placement?

There are times when workplace educators (WPE) are unable to provide the support and attention students might need or like while on placement. Students on workplace learning (WPL) placement may feel isolated and disconnected from their university learning experience, because they are physically removed from their usual place of learning and the people who influence this learning (academics, peers, friends). This can lead to a range of factors that may inhibit the student’s learning experience while on placement.

Although students may have access to a WPE on site, this person may have several students to monitor or needs to attend to other duties and is therefore often not physically present at times when students may have questions or need support. This can result in heightened anxiety, lack of access to discipline knowledge, loss of motivation to perform, difficulty making sense of their learning experience in isolation etc.

Due to being geographically removed from their personal and academic support networks and learning spaces, students report feeling isolated, unsupported and stressed [1]. Students also experience difficulty in transitioning to placements and not knowing what to do when feeling upset or anxious [2].

These WPL challenges highlight that students cannot learn in isolation in the workplace and instead need to be actively engaged and integrated into a community of practice [3] that comprises academic, professional, peer and social support networks [4]. Mobile technology in WPL has the potential to enable a networked, collaborative, integrative learning experience. Characteristics of networked communities are that everybody can have a voice, experiences and advice can be shared across settings and learners can grow their networks. Mobile technologies offer solutions to feeling isolated in WPL by providing opportunities for staying connected, establishing mentoring and peer support systems, and providing students with enabling, personalisable tools and resources [5]. Further, through virtual spaces students can draw on both personal and professional networks.

In their pilot implementation study of the use of mobile devices to support WPL experiences, Dearnley, et al. [6] found that “students really valued the social networking while isolated on remote practice placements”.

These potential benefits do not flow automatically. Being a frequent user of a mobile device does not mean that one then knows how to use it for learning (the ‘digital natives’ fallacy). There is much more to learning with technology than just sharing information.[8] Helping the stakeholders in WPL construct understandings of and capacity in mobile technology use in WPL is an important undertaking.

Our research [7] shows that, with the support of academics and WPE, the use of technology in WPL can allow students to be innovative in their approaches to learning and practice. In answer to this, the research team of the ‘Enhancing Workplace Learning through Mobile Technology’ project has developed a series of resources and resource patterns:

  • The GPS for WPL: An online resource for students to help them navigate the WPL landscape using mobile technology.
  • Initiating Dialogue: A pattern to help design resources or structured discussions that lead to clarifying expectations, pedagogical use and generally a shared understanding about the use of mobile technology on placement.
  • Planning Learning Experiences: A pattern to help design resources or activities to prepare students’ for their WPL experiences.
  • Networking Activities: A pattern to help design resources or activities that support live collaboration and interactions between students, academics, workplace educators or supervisors.
  • Creating Your Own ‘On-The-Go’ Activities: A pattern to help design resources that allow students to construct participatory and self-directed WPL learning activities.
  • Professional and Safe Conduct: A pattern to help design resources or activities to determine ways of developing and maintaining professional and safe conduct for students’ use of mobile technology while on placement.


[1] Gracia, L. (2010). Accounting Students’ Expectations and Transition Experiences of Supervised Work Experience. Accounting Education: An International Journal, 19(1-2), 51-64.

Howard, C., Fox, A. R., & Coyer, F. (2014). Text messaging to support off-campus clinical nursing facilitators: A descriptive study. Nurse Education Today, 34(6), e32-e36.

Mackay, B., & Harding, T. (2009). M-Support: keeping in touch on placement in primary health care settings. Nursing praxis in New Zealand, 25(2), 30-40.

[2] Robinson, A., Abbey, J., Abbey, B., Toye, C., & Barnes, L. (2009). Getting off to a good start? A multi-site study of orienting student nurses during aged care clinical placements. Nurse Education in Practice, 9, 53-60.

[3] Lave, J.,& Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[4] Carvalho, L. & Goodyear, P. (Eds.) (2014). The architecture of productive learning networks, New York, Routledge.

[5] George, L. E., Davidson, L. J., Serapiglia, C. P., Barla, S., & Thotakura, A. (2010). Technology in Nursing Education: A Study of PDA Use by Students. Journal of Professional Nursing, 26(6), 371-376.

Mackay, B., & Harding, T. (2009). M-Support: keeping in touch on placement in primary health care settings. Nursing praxis in New Zealand, 25(2), 30-40.

[6] page 202 in Dearnley, C., Taylor, J., Hennessy, S., Parks, M., Coates, C., Haigh, J., Fairhall, J.,Riley, K., & Dransfield, M. (2009). Using Mobile Technologies for Assessment and Learning in Practice Settings: Outcomes of Five Case Studies. International Journal on E-Learning, 8(2), 193-207.

[7] Trede, F., McEwen, C., Kuswara, A., & Pace-Feraud, J. (2013). CSU Students and Staff’s Use of Technology in Workplace Learning, CSU Think Piece. The Education For Practice Institute, Sydney. [video].

[8] Lea S & Callaghan L (2011) Enhancing Health and Social Care Placement Learning through Mobile TechnologyEducational Technology and Society, 14 (1), 135-145.


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