Fostering autonomy through work-based experiences : challenges for university students and educators
Higher education is increasingly recognizing the importance of developing students’ skills for work during their university careers; however work-based placements within the social sciences, whilst growing in popularity, remain relatively rare and little is known about how students experience this type of learning. This article describes the introduction of work-based experience modules, aiming to develop autonomous students who are equipped for the workplace, within a Social Science degree. It reports on a small-scale qualitative study based on in-depth interviews with students who took these modules and analysis of their assessed reports. The article highlights the challenges for both staff and students in fostering autonomy and ensuring that the support offered reflects students’ needs. The article details the courses’ systems of support and guidance for students, which helped overcome their fears of this new style of learning. We conclude that in introducing autonomous learning, initial apprehensions and uncertainties are to be expected, and that part of the developmental process is overcoming them.