Learn while you work

May 1, 1998

Leeds Metropolitan University is offering students the chance to gain qualifications from sub-degree up to doctorate level without ever attending a lecture, writing an essay or sitting an exam. In fact, students taking part in Learning Power need barely set foot on the university campus.

The idea is being piloted with 50 students who remain in full-time work and turn their employment experience into learning, according to Eileen Shaw, project coordinator. "The idea has caused a riot as there is so much demand," Dr Shaw said. "What makes it attractive is that we are breaking all the old moulds."

Learning Power is a structured process of reflecting on experience and learning in the workplace. A learning contract is devised between subject specialists in the university who visit students at work. As much as 50 per cent of a degree could be awarded through credit of previous experience and knowledge. Student learning is gained through workplace projects.

The students taking part in the pilot come from a wide range of careers and include senior executives from British Telecom and the health service, an architect and a snooker parlour employee. Six are planning to gain doctorates through the scheme.

There are four stages to gaining a degree: enquiry, exploration, development and demonstration. "This is nothing like a traditional degree," Dr Shaw explained. "I tell people not to come to me if they want to be told what to do. There are no work schedules but instead we develop log-diary journals. This is active learning because what people do at work is learning. That is our raw material."

While assignments are not traditional and could result in the production of an artefact instead of a dissertation, they must be accompanied by a reflective analytical statement. This provides a personal review of the learning that has taken place.

Dr Shaw stressed the criteria for judging assignments are as stringent as for any other degree programme and a steering group will advise on quality assurance.

The local Training and Enterprise Council is a partner in the venture and will reimburse students for costs up to Pounds 1,000.

Cliff Knight, chief executive of Leeds Training Trust, has signed up for the scheme along with five members of his team.

"Learning Power is an excellent tool for business," he said. "My employees are enthusiastic about studying for the type of qualification they thought was unavailable for people in high-pressure jobs."

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