Why plan learning experiences?

As an element of the capacity building framework designed to help students make better use of their personal mobile devices (PMDs) for workplace learning (WPL), this specific resource aims to help academic teaching staff and workplace educators (WPEs) facilitate learning experiences that help students make the most of their placement using mobile technology.

Due to the messy reality of workplaces, students will encounter informal, highly complex, and, at times, ill-defined learning contexts and professional experiences. Students on placement may need guidance to learn to value reflection and integrate theoretical, personal and cultural knowledge. The WPL context includes physical, material, emotional, cultural aspects that together shape what is the best way to act in a given situation.[1] Developing practice knowledge and capabilities involves tactile, cognitive, emotional, personal and social elements.[2]

How to help students plan learning experiences with the use of their PMDs for placement ahead of time? How to provide input into the purpose and content of these planned tasks?

While academics, WPEs and students may be keen for students to use their PMDs to make the most of their WPL experiences, there is a range of challenges they may face. These challenges include:

  1. Learning design vs. Learning reality

Students may engage in learning activities and assessment tasks in ways that are very different to how academic staff intended it. Due to the nature of practice, there always remains a degree of uncertainty of what students might learn. The substance of students’ learning may differ markedly from one workplace to another as practice is a social, relational and discursive activity and each workplace has its own culture.

  1. Didactic vs Self-directed learning

Students’ experiences of prescriptive educational experiences may inhibit their intrinsic motivation and stifle their creative drive 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 professional socialisation: the development of students’ professional identity, and social and cognitive practices. However, students’ view of themselves may be dominated by their role as a student, precluding their engagement in their professional community of practice and development as practitioners.[3]

  1. Mobile technology

Students’ and staff’s levels of knowledge, experience and confidence in using mobile technologies and learning vary enormously. Also, 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 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, WPEs and students in WPL may not be identified and understood, and may vary with location, circumstance or time. In addition to this, each may hold their own theories of learning and these may not be consciously articulated or shared with others.

  1. Practice capabilities

Traditional assessment practices in higher education evaluate students’ individual performance, not their capacity to learn from mistakes and develop their sense of responsibility and collegiality. Practice capabilities are to be learned and further developed while on placement. The capability to do something is based on knowledge and skills, but also on the conditions students find in particular workplaces.

Therefore: Academic staff and WPEs need to help students identify who designs what learning component and how. Involving students as active participants in planning their own learning experiences provides them with greater opportunities to develop a sense of agency and the capability to self-regulate and reflect on their learning.

It is worth noting that mobile technology can also be used at each planning stage as well as each phase of the learning experiences to enhance opportunities to learn, manage students’ activities and engagement in the learning process. Students can harness and develop their practice and digital capabilities with guidance to develop awareness of their existing technologies, digital literacies and other skills that can be used to design learning experiences.

Refer to the associated resource page for some examples of how to do this.



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

[2] 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

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