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Making the most of workplace-based learning

In these next sections we will explore further the implications arising from these ideas and consider how they can help you develop your approaches to supporting workplace-based learning.

Creating the right conditions for workplace-based learning

Students and trainees who are made to feel welcome are more likely to actively engage in the full range of learning opportunities provided and to seek to play an active role in the team. Billet (2002) suggests that the ‘invitational qualities of the workplace’ can be seen as the ways in which the workplace provides and supports learning from work activity. Billett argues that these invitational qualities or ‘affordances’ are far from benign, as they shape all opportunities to engage and are unequally distributed. Affordances can be shaped, for example, by student or trainee prior experience, stage in training, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background and apparent differences in motivation, enthusiasm or interest. For example, male students on obstetric and gynaecology attachments may be afforded fewer opportunities to participate than their female colleagues, affecting examination performance and career choices made (see Higham and Steer, 2004).

Consider your own workplace and how ‘newcomers’ are made to feel welcome. Do you always know their preferred form of address and do you use it? Do they have somewhere to store their personal effects? Are they invited to join you for coffee or lunch? Are they given opportunities to get to know all members of the team – medical, nursing, healthcare and support staff – and to appreciate the role they play in patient management and care? Are you confident that your workplace affordances are equally distributed? Do you need to encourage more women into your profession? Do you need to find ways to engage less confident or vocal students or trainees?

Thinking points

  • How can you make your workplace more ‘invitational’ from a learning perspective?
  • Are certain groups or types of student/trainee potentially disadvantaged?
  • What strategies can you use to ensure equal opportunities to participate and learn from workplace activity 

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