Student transfer of skills and knowledge across university and work contexts
World Association for Cooperative Education
Place of Publication
School of Business and Law
When students create new knowledge in the university classroom it is important they are later able to find meaning in this learning, actively connecting it with new situations arising in different contexts, such as the workplace. This is particularly critical as graduates are increasingly expected to navigate multiple, and rapidly changing, work environments, as well as respond to the changing nature of future employment, such as the growth of casual/contract work (Rowe & Zegwaard, 2017). Bransford and Schwartz’s (1999) Preparation for Future Learning (PFL) paradigm forms the conceptual framework for this study. Here, future learning is reliant on the ability to “transfer in” prior knowledge which prepares students to learn and create new knowledge in the different setting. The transfer of skills and knowledge is not only influenced by an individual’s propensity for connecting past learning with current and future learning, but also their response to, and interpretation of, different learning contexts (see Schwartz, Bransford, & Sears, 2005).
Leberman, McDonald and Doyle (2006) assert learning transfer can occur on a spectrum from simple to complex and that some transfer is not automatic. Several studies on transfer across learning and workplace contexts (see, for example, Leberman et al., 2006) indicate the process is significantly influenced by the characteristics of the learner and the nature / degree of similarity between, the original learning setting and the new application context (Baldwin & Ford, 1988). Far transfer, where the source of learning and new context are dissimilar (Barnett & Ceci, 2002), is considered more difficult.
Jackson and Hancock (2010) argue that higher education (HE) should be proactive in facilitating transfer through purposive curricular design. Experimental learning is considered a good opportunity to develop transfer (Analoui, 1993), providing individuals with an opportunity to “practice” the process. Work-integrated learning (WIL), where students undertake, and are formally assessed on, authentic activities through engagement with industry and community partners, is one example of a curricular intervention which may foster effective transfer. WIL can be immersive - such as internships, placements and practicums - or undertaken virtually or on-campus with a focus on consultancy and project-based learning. Immersed models provide a unique opportunity to gauge and develop transfer as students shift between classroom and professional settings.
This study builds on existing scholarship, seeking to better understand the transfer of skills and knowledge through WIL experiences at university, as this complex area is relatively under researched. Specifically, the research objectives were to: i) examine to what extent and how WIL students are transferring their skills and knowledge across university and work settings; and ii) examine characteristics and strategies in WIL program design (in the university context) which facilitate the transfer of skills and knowledge from university to the workplace. The paper is structured to review relevant literature, followed by an outline of the methodology, presentation of results and implications for practice and future research.