I’ve always been a big fan of authentic learning – that is, learning that is conducted in ‘real world’ situations, or that otherwise aligns with the kinds of activities that people undertake outside and beyond educational institutions. The reason that authentic leaerning is so powerful is that it taps in to people’s natural learning preferences – hands on, problem-based, just-in-time; it requires less ‘translation’ between learning situations and application situations; deeper learning tends to occur than with other learning activity types; and learners are more likely to see it as immediately relevant and useful.
In the education for employability sphere, we see authentic learning in work integrated learning (WIL) such as internships and industry projects, which I think are enormously valuable (and in this I agree with 700-odd survey participants in the recent Kinash et al OLT report into strategies to build employability). But I’ve always thought that offering isolated WIL experiences, often in the final year of undergraduate study, isn’t really enough, and it is also happening too late.
Part of the ackowledged value of WIL is that students get to know how organisational processes and cultures operate, as well as being able to apply their knowledge and skills. However, the social capital and social network aspects are less commonly acknolwedged or considered. Students get to know industry people and start to build their professional networks through WIL. And this also makes them more employable.
The turning point around GE2.0 happened for me when I saw some figures from my home faculty that showed that a significant proportion of our 3rd year students were unable to arrange themselves internships by the deadline in their final semesters, and were postponing WIL for this reason (in my faculty, we have a policy of asking our students to source and arrange their own internships, because acquiring employment is something they’ll need to do for themselves throughout their professional lives). When I dug a bit further, I found that many students didn’t know where to look or who to contact to find an internship. Once they did have a shortlist of potential employers, they would cold-call them by sending out a CV and cover letter. Hardly any of the students had any industry contacts at all – they hadn’t even connected with industry on Linkedin (any a good many of them didn’t even have LinkedIn profiles to begin with).
Graduate Employability 2.0 is about building students’ capacities to connect professionally with industry and community, online and offline, so that when they need to find an internship or generate work for themselves, they know where – and with whom – to start. It’s also about students learning to use their networks effectively for learning, and for collaboration.
If you’re involved in teaching for these capacities, I’d love to hear from you (firstname.lastname@example.org). We’re collecting case studies of practice, and want to talk to people who are already working in this space.
For more info about GE2.0, why and how these capabilities are so important – check out my discussion paper “Graduate employability 2.0: Social networks for learning, career development and innovation in the digital age”.