Blurring boundaries – practice-informed learning

Students go to university for a wide variety of reasons, although for many preparation for future employment is a key aspect of their decision.

Once there, students will be taught by both expert teachers at the cutting-edge of pedagogical approaches and those at the forefront of their field through their research. However, there is another group of staff, not always recognised, who may be skilled teachers but who may also be working in industry or practising within their field.

These practitioner-teachers often fly under the radar of national policy makers and yet can significantly enhance students’ work-readiness through their use of real-world examples, access to their networks, and their emphasis on skills for the workplace.

Shedding new light

GuildHE’s newly published report, Practice-Informed Learning: The Rise of the Dual Professional sheds new light on this under-appreciated model of learning. Bringing together case studies from 17 HE and FE institutions, ranging from multi-faculty universities to specialist providers in both the public and private sectors, the report showcases the widespread use of practice-based teaching and learning models.

The report explores the benefits of practice-informed learning. These range from enhancing student skills, developing practitioner talents and networks, and fostering collaboration with local economies.

Blurring the boundaries

A particular focus of the report is what we have termed dual professionals or practitioner teachers – people who hold both teaching responsibilities and continue to be active in their industry or profession. For example, this might include an illustrator who works for a number of clients or an osteopath who maintains a private practice alongside their teaching role.

Such staff bring significant value by ensuring that the most up-to-the-minute skills and expertise are brought into the classroom and by providing students with links to the industries in which they will go on to work. We contend that dual professionalism should be recognised and more highly valued in both higher education and industry.

The report highlights the benefits of contributing to HE to the practitioner teacher, with the chance to reflect on their practice and to look more critically at their own work. But there can also benefits to the employer or the practitioner teachers’ business.

Facing the challenges

Yet these roles and practice-informed teaching more generally are not without challenges. The report faces those challenges head on. Combining professional and teaching roles can be hard work. There may be additional staff or resourcing requirements. Different perspectives and cultures may initially clash, and institutional structures may not be set up to support new forms of teaching and learning. Nonetheless, all these problems are surmountable.

GuildHE has long been associated with institutions closely aligned to industry and the professions. As such, we recognise that improved employment opportunities are a key factor in student choice. We hope this new report will go some way towards enhancing the position of practice-informed teaching and learning.

If you would like to learn more about Practice-Informed Learning, GuildHE and Advance HE will be holding a joint symposium exploring these issues in more depth in the spring (date TBC). For more information, contact jack.fleming@guildhe.ac.uk.

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