Designing External Activities

In her book on experiential learning, Jennifer Moon discusses the difficulty of implementing successful external activities in the classroom. For instance, in the case of placements, it is important to remember that learning “from work experience mimics everyday learning. It is disrupted and non-routine, emotion is involved… much of the learning is incidental or informal… there are different points of view for virtually any issue…. Making something of this chaotic learning situation is confusing for a learner who is used to being ‘fed’ information in lectures” (Moon, 2004, p. 165).

There is also the “danger of trapping learner understanding within their own work setting.” The students’ “understanding and working knowledge becomes over-localized and cannot transcend the present and the particular” (Moon, 2004, p. 167). The underpinning principle of the external activity therefore must be the use of reflection to focus on the process of learning, allowing the experience to be generalized to other situations (p. 164).

outside education

To help structure external experiences, instructors should “incorporate the pattern of inquiry so that students are thinking and solving problems” while still involved in the experiences (Wurdinger, 2005, p. 11). The pattern of inquiry is discussed in greater detail in the section of this document on designing classroom activities.

To help learners make sense of their experience, it is crucial that learning be focused. Moon suggests that learning can be focused with the following:

• Carefully structured learning outcomes

• Briefing sessions and/or handouts

• Opportunities for reflection

• Tasks that directly apply what has been learned from the placement

• Assessment criteria (Moon, 2004, p. 165)

To help clarify what she means by the importance of helping students understand how their particular experience applies to the world as a whole, Moon has listed areas of potential learning that “should be included in learning outcomes and assessment criteria” for external activities (Moon, 2004, p. 164). When planning an external activity, instructors should consider this list and select the most appropriate items to expand upon.

As part of an external experiential activity, a student should learn:

• about work and workplace practices,

• how organizations work,

• communication skills and about working with people,

• about personal work behavior patterns,

• to evaluate their own performance,

• to work with feedback from others,

• about their own career aspirations,

• to plan and complete projects,

• to learn from experience,

• about self-management,

• to use reflection and reflective practice,

• key employability (or other) skills “not easily gained elsewhere in the curriculum,”

• self-confidence and a willingness to take initiatives, and

• to enhance their orientation toward lifelong learning (Moon, 2004, p. 164).

The other major hurdle that instructors must successfully leap when developing external activities is the identification and recruitment of placement sites and supervisors, and the negotiation of agreements that will benefit both the site and the students. Cantor describes several key ingredients for successful placements:

  1. Programs should be designed to make them of “sufficient duration that employers are motivated to invest in training and use the program as their primary recruitment source.”
  2. Placement opportunities should be “substantive enough to be challenging even to highly educated or experienced adults.”
  3. Instructors should “locate the positions in the curricula with great professional potential and a dearth of entry-level opportunities” (Cantor, 1995, p. 87)

Instructors should visit the potential site and list the benefits that will “accrue to each, and the expectations of each partner… there should be a written agreement listing the kinds of activities that the students will be doing as part of the placement. Make sure there is a mutual understanding of the working conditions, salary (if any), hours of work, attendance, and evaluation process. These need to be spelled out in the written agreement. Make sure limits of liability are understood” (Cantor, 1995, p. 88).

When negotiating with potential partner institutions, Cantor reminds instructors to expressly state that mentors are expected to help “learners explicitly understand learning as it is occurring,” that expectations between mentors and learners must be “mutually understood and agreed upon, and reviewed periodically,” and that “concrete exhibition of learning and skills should be encouraged to enhance the learners selfconcept” (p. 85).


If it is the student’s responsibility to select their placement, instructors should guide their selection by helping the student identify their career goals, complete an environmental assessment, review the potential positions, develop suitable terms, complete the placement, and then review their experience (p. 84).

Extract from :
Prepared by Michelle Schwartz, Research Associate, for the Vice Provost, Academic, Ryerson University, 2012 http://www.ryerson.ca/lt 
This entry was posted in Blogs.

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