Michael Eraut – Improving the Quality of Work Placements

by Paul Maharg on 01/04/2009

Next up, Michael Eraut in a plenary session.  I've followed Michael's work for years, and it's had a major influence on what we've done at the GGSL.  He began with theory, looking for instance at interactions between time, mode of cognition and type of process.  For example, contrast of type of process, instant reflex, and the forms of reaction that agents have in the situation, eg rapid intuitive response, or deliberative analytic response.  So when the agent is making an assessment of the sitation int will involved pattern recongition (intstant reflex) rapid interpretation & comm. on the spot (rapid intuitive), and in the deliberative analytic mode, prolonged diagnosis, involving also review, discussion and analysis. 

He took us through a typology of learning modes, focusing on work processes with learning as a by-product; agentic activities  located within work or learning processes, and learning processes at or near the workplace.  The first (learning as a by-product), involved:

  • participation in group processes
  • working alongside others 
  • consultation 
  • working with clients 
  • tackling challenging tasks & roles 
  • problem solving 
  • trying things out 
  • consolidating, extending and refining skills 
  • working with clients 

 Michael focused on how working alongside others in the workplace allows students to observe & listen to others (thinking here of Lave & Wenger, and legitimate peripheral participation literatures…), participate in shared activities, learn new practices, become aware of different kinds of knwledge, and gain a sense of others' tacit knowledge.  Quaere: how do they recognise that knowledge as tacit?  Or is that Michael's comment, as it were?

He presented his ideas on factors affecting learning at work: the two triangle model — like an inverted CHAT framework, but without the driving dialectic line — the first called learning factors, the second, context factors.  So, eg, what matters in context triangle are allocation & structuring of work, encounters & relationships with people at work, and individual participation and agent expectations…

There was much more of the same that he skipped over, and which is in the handout — great stuff.  He then focused on what he had been doing at the SCEPTrE centre, at the invitation of Norman Jackson.  He was working with staff and students to use these and other tools to help students on placements, and across four faculties, so the range of his work with students is pretty extensive.  Data was derived from an online questionnaire, and preliminary analysis of this.  Noted that the numbers were small from each faculty; but nevertheless some interesting findings coming out of the analysis.  He focused n stupport there was for learning tasks, support for project work, support for responsible roles, views of career outcomes, etc.  One interesting finding was who the students thought were the most influential people.  Supervisors (academic) came out tops, with manager & senior person next.  Michael didn't raise this, but if the legit. periph. part. literature is applied to this, wouldn't there be higher marks for work colleagues who gave advice and worked alongside the students?  

Impressive work, huge amounts of data, and he could really only skim the surface of an interesting project.  First question suggested that we replace 'placement' with 'learning', noting the alignment between teaching, learning & assessment.  Michael agreed with the idea (though I think that really, it doesn't get us terribly far): there is of course work that is learning in the placement — that's the whole point of the placement activity, surely?  Norman clarified that the diagnostic tool was helpful for students to understand what was happening in the placement.  Third questioner asked if there was any relationship between type of placement and the learning that took place — eg computing engineering workplace vs client-based workplace.  Michael answered by saying that of the accountants, engineers and nurses, the 'best deal' for students was that of the accountants, who had a well-organised and structured work placement, and structured it well especially in the first three months.  Nursing placement roles weren't well structured at all, were stressful, and where the culture in the ward could be grown successfully.  Engineers had huge differences — the reason being allocation of work, lack of challenge (eg in computing).  

As a diagnostic tool, Michael's work could be of interest to us in Law in Scotland, particularly at the PEAT 2 stage, where students go into traineeships.  We might be able to use it there as a diagnostic instrument.  Fine session.  

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