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Preparing to learn in the practicum


It is essential not to assume that because you are a good classroom student you will automatically be a good work placement student. You will need to prepare for the differences between the workplace and classroom learning environments if you are to gain valuable learning experiences from your placement.

Differences between workplace and classroom learning

You have been used to the classroom relationship between teacher and student. Suddenly, this is different in the workplace. How can you deal with this to ensure your experience is not wasted? You can start by finding out:

  • Are you expected to ask questions?
  • Who will you ask?
  • When is it appropriate to ask?
  • Are you expected to share some of your new learning from the classroom?
  • With whom and when is this appropriate?

Your status in the overall scheme of things in the workplace is also different. At university you are the central concern, but in the workplace learning context this is unlikely to be the case due to multiple and often competing interests, such as:

  • The host organisation’s interests.
  • Clients’ needs and interests.
  • The workplace supervisor’s ongoing work as well as their role and responsibilities to you.
  • Your learning needs.
  • University requirements.
  • Professional organisation requirements.

The types of learning experiences during the placement are also different. In some practicum programmes university staff may not closely manage the experience and there may be a fairly flexible programme to follow. Hence you may need to take more responsibility for your own learning, work out what you need to know, find out how to learn it, decide what professional activities you would like to experience, and negotiate arrangements for this to happen.

In the workplace, learning experiences may be unique, unpredictable, immediate and transient, and high-risk situations may be involved, allowing no margin for error. This is entirely different from ‘comfortable’ classroom learning, where you have the luxury of being able to ‘get it wrong’ as part of your learning experience. Therefore, orientation, reflection and debriefing become central teaching/learning strategies for the placement.

Have a look at this chart of ‘cold’ (classroom) and ‘hot’ (workplace) learning, which illustrates important differences between university and workplace learning. You will also find the following tips on how to prepare for, and gain the most from your practicum experience helpful.

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