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Learning in Workplace Contexts


It is reasonable to wonder why you are being asked to prepare yourself to learn in the workplace. Getting ready for work placement as a learning experience is much like going on an overseas trip - you will get much more out of the experience if you actively and positively plan for it, rather than thinking of yourself merely as a passive ‘tourist’.

Preparing to learn in the practicum

You will have been a student for some time now and feel that learning is a skill in which you are highly practiced. This assumption can be a trap because learning in workplace contexts is quite different and requires some anticipation of that difference. For example, the different roles and relationships are not necessarily clear. In a classroom there is a long established, tacit understanding of what it is that teachers and students do, and how they will interact. This is not the case in the workplace. You may also find that your status in the overall scheme of things in the workplace is different than it is at university, and the type of learning experiences during the placement are also different from those you have come to expect at university. Read the discussion on Preparing to learn in the practicum, then complete the activity on orienting yourself to the practicum experience and place it in your Portfolio.

Focus on yourself as an active learner

In this module you will focus on yourself as an active learner, exploring four aspects of orientation to the practicum that aim to ensure you get the most out of the experience:

  • Motivation - identifying what you want to achieve in the placement.

  • Intentionality - planning your learning and considering the differences between learning in classrooms and learning from practical experience.

  • Self-awareness - articulating your strengths and limitations.

  • Adaptability - preparing for the uncertainty of the workplace.

In focusing on these four areas, it is important to keep the academic goal of workplace learning in mind - to engage both theory and practice as complementary parts of the whole learning experience. Theory is derived from practice and at the same time challenges it, while practice challenges theory and enables re-conceptualisation and theory building.

The effectiveness of workplace learning can be measured by its success in engaging theory with practice and enabling the student to relate both theoretical and practical learning to the workplace and the classroom. Therefore, it is important not to give workplace learning pre-eminent status in relation to more theoretical, classroom learning simply because the learning is often immediately relevance to your life experience and future career. Have a look at this workplace learning diagram to fully understand what is required for maximum workplace learning.


‘Motivation’ is one of the catch cries of the work place. Employers want motivated workers because they believe such people will bring initiative, creativity and industry to the workplace. Motivation is not a tangible attribute and is not largely inferred from behaviour. Read the discussion about Motivation to help you get a better understanding of how this can enhance your learning while on placement. After you have read the discussion, complete the activity about motivational habits and put it in your Portfolio.


Being ‘intentional’ in your learning is about clearly stating your learning objectives, and planning and organising your actions throughout the placement to ensure those objectives are met. Thus, being intentional is about taking control of your learning during the placement - taking initiative and doing everything you can to make the most of every opportunity that presents itself to gain new knowledge, understanding and skills in your vocation. The virtue of being proactive forms the starting point of Steven Covey’s well-known book ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. Have a look at the summaries of this book, especially the topics ‘Proactive, Personal Vision’, and ‘Beginning with the End in Mind’. Now read the discussion about Intentionality, complete the activity on writing learning objectives and put this in your Portfolio.


Self-awareness is an invaluable tool to assist your learning while you are on placement. Developing self-awareness involves examining and questioning your behaviour, motivation, likes and dislikes during the practicum, and seeking explanations for why you learn and relate to others the way you do (e.g. How do I feel about the practicum? Am I nervous?). Read the discussion on Self-awareness, complete the activity (self-awareness checklist) and add it to your Portfolio.


It is not possible to totally regulate everything in the workplace. Hence, during the practicum you will encounter unexpected events and behaviours that will require you to respond on the spot and make adjustments to your normal responses so that you demonstrate a professional disposition. These situations can provide rich moments for learning.

Some of the most powerful and memorable learning experiences occur from unexpected events and interactions, as these provide opportunities for you to develop or demonstrate initiative and creativity. Learning from these incidental happenings is therefore equally as important as engaging in formal learning activities. Read the discussion on Adaptability to see strategies for developing this attribute then complete the activity about preparing for uncertainty and add it to your Portfolio.


You may like to access these resources for more information about Motivation, Intentionality, Self-awareness and Adaptability in workplace learning.

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