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What does 'real world' mean, anyway?

Real world learning is a phrase that suggests its meaning should be obvious: learning about the real world. 

Or is it learning in the real world, or through it? And what does ‘real world’ mean, anyway?

We asked some experts to give us their views: the pedagogic research perspective; the teaching and learning in the classroom perspective; and the employability perspective. 

First of all, the theory. Real world learning has a number of interpretations, and might be variously termed authentic learning, situated learning or experiential learning, amongst others. 

The important point is that learning is contextualised and applied within a professionally-oriented community of practice. This can empower students, by giving them the opportunity to co-create knowledge and learn through mistakes in a safe environment. Knowledge is transferred from one domain to the other, providing rich sources of reflection, and students need only take advantage of the possibilities, and enjoy it. 

What does that look like on the ground? It could be a whole day of crisis simulation or a two-week placement. Or, it could be far less complicated, and simply be a well-chosen guest speaker, the application of case studies, or live client briefs. It doesn’t have to be difficult, and it doesn’t have to take up a lot of time to establish. You will know best what will work for your students, and what they are likely to respond to most positively. 

Possibly the biggest question, after ‘what is it’, is ‘why do it?’

The main benefit of real world learning is the way it can help support students in becoming familiar with the professional environment. As well as the subject content, the associated behaviours crucial for working with clients are developed, like clear and timely communication, thinking critically, problem solving and time management. These extra dimensions can be transformed into concrete experiences that provide excellent evidence for interviews. 

In short, real world learning sets our students apart. If you would like to know more about how to apply it or develop it further, then feel free to contact any of our speakers or watch the full livecast.