Some Examples of Work-Place Learning at a Distance

Most of the knowledge and skills anyone possesses are a result of the things they have learned during work and on the job. Workplace learning is mainly informal, taking place through work-related actions, meaning that people learn more from each other and during the process of finding solutions for their day-to-day problems at the workplace.

In addition, work-related learning also includes self-directed learning, networking, coaching and mentoring, contributing to the development of the employee and of the organisation as a whole.

In the case of workplace learning within a distance education course, focusing on the development of inter-related complex skills and know-how can best be enhanced by consciously integrating all these in an authentic business-process setting, or in contexts that closely resemble real company life.

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Formal education has adapted to this situation and universities started to introduce different educational settings, which include specific elements that relate to active learning. When you look for educational programmes, consider those educational settings that activate your learning the most, i.e. suits you the best regarding your interest, motivation, and the skills you need to learn. Conventional universities mostly use work placement as the most important method to acquire complex, work related skills. Distance teaching (and other) universities have developed other methods such as;

  • simulation
  • gaming
  • project based learning and virtual project learning
  • virtual business (e-)learning and work placement

In a separate article, the concept of e-learning and blended learning is described.

1. What are the advantages of simulations?

A simulation is based on a real case scenario done in an educational setting, with the main things that are simulated are the operating processes the employee usually uses or will have to use. The visual or dramatic resemblance with reality can be more or less accurate, with more or less involvement of and interaction with the student-spectator. For instance, in a customer service department, the employee will simulate a telephone or online conversation with a work colleague pretending to be a client.

The essential characteristic of all simulations is controlling and going through all of the parameters and the processes as much as possible. When the simulation is repeated with the same parameters, the outcome will be the same.

The most important part of the training is the understanding of the cause-effect chain, mostly combined with rapid effective intervention based on algorithmic decision handling schemes.

2. How does games-based learning work?

Like simulations, games involve role-playing and building a competition factor, both very important to the idea and the perception of the ‘game’. Although not all players will win, games are meant to strongly motivate people, to the extent that they can be completely immersed in the game environment. Rich training games ask people to take a role in order to get an inside understanding of the variety of the points of view.

3. What is project-based learning?

Project-based learning (and project oriented problem-based learning) is an instructional method based on challenging questions or problems that involve the students' decision making, investigative skills, and reflection. Students will formulate their own questions, allowing them to develop valuable research skills as they will engage in design and problem-solving activities for a certain work project, essay or test.

Distance teaching universities are using this kind of learning in a virtual setting, using ICT systems to facilitate the group work, the assessment of project work, etc.

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Virtual business learning as the trend of the future

In Virtual Business Learning, a real problem is formulated by a real customer in a real business environment. The effective deadline together with an effective commissioner waiting for an interesting solution or advice as the outcome of the group work will make the difference between simple role ‘playing’ and an effective employee perception. As such, students work on complex, non-routine, ill- structured tasks. This set-up is complemented with an educational setting that includes a supporting ICT infrastructure, allowing distributed teamwork, and explicitly facilitates the active construction of knowledge, new ideas and working methods of a business.

The assessments are done according to professional practice and its performance standards. On this aspect, Virtual Business Learning stresses the importance of the situation that requires solving an actual problem immediately, as it occurs, compared to explaining to a student how to solve a problem which occurred in the past. This situation will have strong effects on the depth with which competences can be effectively trained.

Work-based learning as the ideal learning environment

Nothing can ever replace the actual experience of working in a real workplace, be it as a trainee. Almost every curriculum acknowledges the value of in situ training, for both programmes that apply dual learning and training curricula for professional branches.

For the students, having a ‘student-trainee’ status on the workplace, is often disappointing, as most times he or she gets limited responsibilities. Paradoxically, a student can actually be more ‘employee’ in the settings described above than he/she is allowed to be as a trainee on a real workplace where he/she is often asked to do the ‘small work’ which has no appeal to his/her competences as a starting professional.

Most work placements are ‘single’ events, where one student works three months at a company or organisation. The performed tasks are rarely based on a group responsibility process. On the other hand, in Virtual Business Learning, the group responsibility for the problem solution is the starting point. So a student can be trained to develop his/hers social competences in an actual work environment.

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