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Keywords:

  • evaluation;
  • work-based learning;
  • experiential learning;
  • reflection;
  • supervision;
  • theory practice gap;
  • nurse education

Experiential learning: issues for supervision

This paper reports on an evaluation of work-based learning within a postregistration community health nursing degree programme. Work-based learning is primarily concerned with the process of learning and with encouraging the individual to be explicit about how and what they learn so that their experiential learning may be assessed and accredited. The methodology of Illuminative Evaluation was adopted, with case studies (n=6) used as the means of exploring in depth the different perspectives of the major stakeholders (that is, the students, their workplace supervisors and their academic supervisors). The data comprised documentation, participant and nonparticipant observation, interviews and focus groups. The initial aim was to examine the potential benefits of work-based learning to students and to describe its impact on their practice. However, what emerged through the course of inquiry was a gap between the educational philosophy of work-based learning and the way in which work-based learning was delivered within the department concerned. Work-based learning provides educators with an opportunity to debate openly fundamental issues about the nature of educational practice; in particular, about the role of the supervisor in facilitating students’ learning. As the evaluation highlights, if this debate does not occur, existing educational practice remains unchanged and the potential benefits to students of this new educational philosophy are not realized. Furthermore, it is by engaging in a reflective process in relation to their own experience that educators can begin to understand how to facilitate that process in others.