This page focuses on the element ‘real-world/applied learning’. It provides a description of the element, highlights its relevance, and provides examples of real-world/applied learning in the curriculum. Description Subject teaching that is rich in real-world examples, context-based learning, research projects and opportunities to see how the subject and its methods are applied in different external contexts. Relevance for student development, employability and careers Opportunities for students to apply their learning and see the subject’s methods used in realistic contexts can help illustrate and/or reinforce the relevance and value of the subject beyond the formal learning environment, and can build students’ confidence in applying their learning. Tips and things to consider Below you will find some key tips and guidance to consider when incorporating real-world/applied learning into curricular provision. These draw on various pedagogies that directly incorporate real-world contexts and allow students to apply their learning, such as problem-based learning, context-based learning, and using wicked problems. The references at the bottom of the page explore these pedagogies in more detail. Real-world/applied learning takes many forms, so the tips and guidance below try to be as encompassing as possible. Combining this element with active teaching methods and work experience can produce some of the strongest forms of real-world/applied learning. Active teaching methods Work experience Practical tips Support students in contextualising their learning Having students contextualise disciplinary learning into the real-world and familiar knowledge/situations, such as previous courses or specific examples and topics, can help make the content’s relevance more apparent. It can also support the integration of the new learning into your students’ existing knowledge. Allowing your students to reflect on or consider how the learning impacts their lives or their understanding of the topic, subject, or society can be a good way of doing this. Choose the best real-world examples you can When choosing real-world examples consider the different parameters that contribute to a good example. One is clearly how well it demonstrates your point, another might be how recent or relevant it is to students. Choices will be a compromise of these and other factors, but the impact and importance of clear and current relevance cannot be underestimated. Often it doesn't take long to update lectures with new or more relevant content. Provide opportunities for students to apply the methods of your field There are many ways to do this: vocational degrees and many natural sciences frequently use labs/workshops; social sciences and humanities often benefit from well-designed tutorials that facilitate the application of learning. Creating tasks/questions that go beyond recollecting or finding facts and instead require students to criticise, analyse and synthesise their learning, can ensure a greater focus on application of learning and disciplinary methods. See ‘Further reading’ for a paper by Brown and Sambell (2020) that offers a helpful approach for writing authentic assessments. Progressively increase students’ exposure to the complexity of your discipline in the real world Within courses and across a degree, you can scaffold students' comfort with and appreciation of the complexity of the real world and how your field fits within it. In the early stages, you might highlight how specific principles or theories are exemplified in the real world, and then later introduce greater nuance and potentially intractable problems. Consider incorporating problem-based learning or 'wicked problems' Having students engage with course material by working on real-world 'wicked problems', where solutions are 'better/worse' rather than 'right/wrong', can be an excellent way for students to both apply their learning and see it in a real-world context. This approach can benefit from interdisciplinary discussions and/or collaboration with externals. Using case studies Case studies are an excellent way to bring in the real-world and showcase examples of your fields’ methods being applied in practice. Although less active than having students apply the principles, theory or learning themselves, it is also often quicker and so an easy win when you are looking to exemplify a new concept. Have students create case studies or analyse real-world problems using theory A great way to engage students with new learning is to ask them to create a relevant case study or analyse a topic using this new learning. This gives students a chance to incorporate the new learning into their existing knowledge and allows you to see how well they understand it. Examples of practice from the University of Edinburgh There is diverse practice across the University that can be used to stimulate thinking about what is possible in your setting. Below is a link to a range of relevant practice from the Teaching Matters blog. The examples come from multiple parts of the student experience and relate either partially or substantially to this element. New articles are automatically added so check back in the future to discover some of the latest practice. Teaching Matters: relevant articles Further reading and external perspectives The references below provide some background on this element as well as some of the external drivers and motivations for including it. Overview These references provide a theoretical and empirical argument for incorporating more real-world and applied learning into our teaching. From discussing the history and development of problem-based and context-based learning approaches, it also presents evidence for how using and being aware of our students’ prior knowledge of a topic can be used actively to foster understanding by using real-world examples. They also show how these approaches can increase students’ appreciation of how their fields’ methods are used in the real world. Further reading Reference Description Employer and alumni engagement (within the Curriculum Toolkit) An external driver guiding university policies around engaging with employers is the political climate pushing to ensure that graduates are highly skilled and ready to enter the workforce. Employers and universities are encouraged to prepare students by creating more work-like experiences while at university. One way of supporting this development in students is to place teaching in real-world contexts and allow students rich opportunities to apply the course methods – through this they will gain relevant practical experience and be more work-ready upon graduation. Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C., & Norman, M.K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching, Chapter 1 & 2; San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Chapter 1 is dedicated to how students’ prior knowledge affects their learning, and discusses how, when used well, prior knowledge can support robust learning. Chapter 2 discusses how effective cognitive organisation of knowledge makes learning and remembering easier for students. Together these have multiple implications many of which are discussed in the book, including the benefit of enriching our teaching with examples and knowledge our students are likely to know, or are familiar with. For example, using current real-world examples to help activate students’ previous knowledge thereby allowing learning to build on existing cognitive knowledge structures. Taconis, R., den Brok., & Pilot. A. (eds.) (2016). Teachers creating context-based learning environments in science. Amsterdam, Sense Publishers. In this book, the teaching strategy of context-based learning is introduced. Concepts, approach and motivations behind these are outlined. Chapter 1 provides a good general introduction. Bayat, S. & Tarmizi R.A. (2012). Effects of problem-based learning approach on cognitive variable of university students. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 46, 3146-3151. A problem-based learning (PBL) approach is experimentally compared with standard lecture teaching in a statistics course. Students in the PBL approach had significantly higher test scores than students taught with the standard approach and students in the experimental condition also perceived that they had to use less mental energy (measured in cognitive load) during the instruction hours. PBL in this context is used to describe teaching where students actively apply their learning to real-world problems. Yew, E.H.J. & Goh, K. (2016). Problem-based learning: An overview of its process and impact on learning. Health Professions Education, 2(2), 75-79. This paper reviews research on problem-based learning (PBL). General findings across the literature suggest that PBL has positive effects on long-term learning and generally creates confident learners who are skilled at problem solving, co-creation and self-directed learning. Gutwill-Wise, J.P. (2001). The impact of active and context-based learning in introductory chemistry courses: an early evaluation of modular approaches. Journal of Chemical Education, 78(5), 684-690. This experimental paper analyses the effects of using an active context-based approach in introductory chemistry classes at two US colleges. It found that, compared to regular classes, students in the experimental condition did better on conceptual and standard tests. While it generally found that students enjoy this kind of teaching approach more, some students reported that they did not. Interviews suggested that this was partly due to students being uncomfortable with a new approach to teaching and expecting a traditional didactic lecture and textbook approach. While not enjoying the approach, students still performed better on average, and had a better appreciation for how chemistry could be used in the real world. Brown, S., & Sambell, K. (2020). Writing better assignments in the post-Covid19 era: approaches to good task design. Retrieved from https://sally-brown.net Writing authentic assessments (254.13 KB PDF) This paper offers an approach to writing more authentic assessments in lieu of traditional exams. It can seem hard work to create new assignments from scratch that are authentic, challenging and engaging for students, so this paper tries to break down the task into its component elements to make the job easier to tackle.