Online strategies which connect students with professionals and sites of professional practice can provide a valuable context for engagement with subject content and make clearer the relevance of the subject learning outcomes by connecting theory to practice. This engagement also supports the development of professional capabilities, induction into the culture and values of the profession, and an ethos of lifelong learning and career planning. This element supports enhanced learner-community engagement.
Online strategies which connect students with professionals and sites of professional practice can provide a valuable context for engagement with subject content and make clearer the relevance of the subject learning outcomes by connecting theory to practice (Dalgarno, Kennedy & Merritt, 2014).
Practice based learning, including learning situated within workplaces and other sites of professional practice is a key pillar in the contemporary learning and teaching aspirations of many institutions. For students studying online the key challenge is ensuring that such experiences are provided in a way that aligns with their learning within the subjects across their course. Dalgarno, Kennedy and Merritt (2014) argue that there is a danger of a disconnect between the theory of academic disciplines and the teaching and learning at sites of professional practice. They claim this is due to three fundamental problems: students’ incomplete knowledge of the practice context, the application of theoretical knowledge to inauthentic or contrived contexts within universities, and different messages from lecturers and site supervisors. They suggest that curriculum developments in work integrated learning programs, inquiry based learning designs and simulations can be used to overcome these difficulties and argue for the use of rich media tools to connect academic sites and sites of professional practice (Dalgarno, Kennedy & Merritt, 2014, p21).
For students studying online a credible connection to the workplace is critical. Conrad’s (2008) study examined the connection between distance education and workplace learning with a small sample of students from a range of programs and demonstrated that while the students felt that their online study was valuable in terms of application at work, skill development and adding value as an employee, this did not transform their workplace. Colleagues of the students were respectful but distant in terms of how the academic learning applied to their everyday activities (Conrad, 2008). Rich media tools may provide a connection to the workplace for students studying online to mitigate this tendency. In their study of a pharmacy placement program Kettis, Ring, Gustavsson and Wallman (2013) demonstrated how establishing a website for student/tutor communications aided students to improve their reflective and general skills. Stacey, Smith and Barty’s (2004) successful application of small groups based on commonality of context and purpose at work could also be enhanced and facilitated by the use of social media technology.
Online technologies have the potential to increase the connectedness between students undertaking formal work placements or undertaking less formal fieldwork or community based activities, and their teaching staff at university. Such technologies can also help students to connect with each other as a community of learners while undertaking their situated learning, to allow shared reflection on their practice, as well as peer mentoring and support.
As well as supporting connections to professionals and professional contexts, strategies within this element also support the development of professional capabilities, induction into the culture and values of the profession, and an ethos of lifelong learning and career planning.
The Interaction with the Professions element is exemplified by:
- Case studies that highlight professional contexts through rich media.
- Guest online lectures by professional practitioners.
- Authentic practice-focused assessment tasks.
- Assessment tasks requiring students to draw on and reflect upon placements.
- Online discussions with peers and teachers during work placements.
- Online role plays and simulations.
- Online mentoring and professional networking.
- Video conference connections to sites of practice.
The TOL Learning Experience Framework, while encouraging designers to draw upon the OLM in a way which best meets the learning needs of the particular cohort, also recommends that the Interaction with the Professions element is enacted so that relevant subjects will address professional practice through simulated workplace learning activities, resources and assessment as well as learning activities in actual workplaces, professionals and/or professional practices.
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