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Employability in the curriculum – the Why and How of real-world learning

‘Real-world’, or ‘authentic’ learning are terms you are probably familiar with by now. This approach is a key feature of the curriculum framework, and one on which BILT have already shared a lot of great advice (if you haven’t already, check out their blog post on creating authentic online teaching and learning).   

If, like us, you’ve taken part in the Digital Design course you will have enjoyed finding out about how authentic approaches can transform student learning and their experience of assessment. We were inspired – so are now delving into this topic with an employability lens too.  

Real-world learning: why does it matter? 

Opportunities to apply learning to real-world contexts and challenges help to prepare students for life and work beyond university. This might seem to be stating the obvious – most people recognise the link. But to fully appreciate the potential impact of real-world learning, it’s worth reflecting on some of the benefits for students:  

  • They become agents in their own learning – thereby developing the initiative and autonomy they need to succeed professionally   
  • They develop enterprising, questioning, innovative mindsets – essential for organisations of all sizes and sectors to thrive  
  • They develop a broader range of other highly valuable skills and attributes – such as project management, collaborative working and professionalism 
  • They gain insight into, and experience of, the world of work – helping to inform their choices about where they go next  

Real-world and online learning – a contradiction?    

The idea of real-world learning in the curriculum may sound appealing. But how possible is it in the current context? Surely applying learning to real challenges requires students to actually go out into the ‘real world’? 

Well, hopefully you can see that many of the suggestions and examples we include below are those that could be delivered remotely. Of course, there are significant challenges for placements, lab work, or other applied teaching and learning methods which ordinarily require a physical presence – but in many cases, it’s still possible to deliver a meaningful and engaging remote real-world learning or assessment experience. And in doing so, students develop a skillset that will equip them for the reality of work after university.  Look out for our next blog post for more on this!   

Real-world learning: how can you incorporate into your unit or programme 

There are a range of ways to introduce real-world learning into your curriculum – from light-touch approaches like using case studies through to embedding work experience or placement opportunities.  

We’ve included some examples below, which are grouped for ease into three categories. It’s impossible to do this neatly and there is some overlap – but hopefully gives an idea of the range of approaches you could choose…  

Professional tasks  Briefings for policy makers or Think Tanks    
Reports for research bodies  
Blogs/vlogs or podcasts 
Customer / patient information leaflets  
Articles or videos for the media  
Business ideas or plans  
Digital portfolios 
Creating an exhibit or curating a museum  
In tray/e-tray exercises under time constraint 
Applying subject knowledge and methods  Labs and workshops  
Research projects and reports  
Mini-academic conferences  
Poster or panel presentations  
Debates  
Data collection/surveying, analysis, interpretation  
Using real source material  
Real-world contexts and challenges  Examples or illustrative case studies  
Live case study problems or consultancy briefs 
Engaged Learning projects  
Applied dissertations – research with or for external organisations  
Virtual shadowing or insight using video platforms  
Work placements or experience in industry  
Developing a business idea to meet needs of a society / community / industry challenge  
Real-world learning practice examples

If you’d like to explore further, take a look at this paper on authentic learning practices or this one on alternatives to exams.  

Real world learning at Bristol  

There are plenty of examples of real-world learning taking place in programmes across the University. We have gathered a small selection below to give you of an idea of what it can look like in practice.  

Take a look at the teaching case studies on the BILT website for some further examples. You can also see approaches used in other institutions in JISC’s case studies on using technology for embedding employability.  

Your examples and feedback – we want to hear from you!  

We would love to hear about any work you’ve done to develop real-world learning in your unit or programme – please share your examples in the comments below.  

Do also let us know how you are finding the blog series so far or any suggestions for topics that would be useful for us to cover. Comment below or get in touch at ellen.grace@bristol.ac.uk 

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