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Applied Learning

What is Applied Learning?

Applied learning describes an approach whereby students learn by engaging in directly applying their skills, theories and models. Students apply the knowledge, skills, theories and models from their discipline-subject to real-world challenges, creative projects or research.  Consecutively, what they then gain from these real-world applied experiences they apply to their academic learning. Find out more on the Applied Learning in Practice blog.

The Model

The applied learning experience can occur outside of the traditional classroom experience, for example, sandwich placement or 120 hours work experience.  Equally, it can be embedded as part of the taught course.  At Sheffield Hallam, this is often achieved through live projects.  In many cases these live projects are in conjunction with the Venture Matrix, where live projects are designed, in collaboration with employers, to enable students to develop their self-confidence, problem solving and teamwork; the top-rated employability skills identified by students, tutors and employers (Wickramasinghe & Perera, 2010). The employer project is constructively aligned to the module and its assessment to positively impact learning (Biggs, 1996). Student activity adds value to the employer by enabling work that might not otherwise be done (Harris, Jones & Coutts, 2010). Students are encouraged to embrace the value they add and to expect success in the module. Fostering these attitudes harnesses the expectancy-value theory of motivation and drives the work forward (Biggs, 2003).

Interconnecting elements of the model (subject-specific placement, authentic environment, CPD support, workshops), follow Herrington’s model of authentic learning (Herrington & Herrington, 2006) and are designed to support the acquisition of higher-order thinking processes and competencies as well as of factual subject knowledge (Gulikers & Kirschner, 2004). Through taking part in the placements the students develop cognitive competencies such as problem-solving and critical thinking, as well as social competencies such as communication and collaboration; and through workshops are supported to develop meta-cognitive competencies such as reflection (Birenbaum, 1996).

At this stage in the pipeline, the students have had a rich and building experience of application and professionalism, which from pre-induction through level 5 has been augmented by significant guided instruction; as such, at this point they can be afforded space to engage in free exploration of the tasks (Cain, Grundy & Woodward, 2018). This enables a constructivist epistemology by which the students create their own learning and experience but are guided to think and act like experts, (Jonassen, 1991) via the scope of the consultancy project itself.

In Practice

At Level 4: Level 4 – Mass Participation Projects

  • Mass participation – one employer per seminar group
  • Students work in small groups.
  • All employer projects are subject-specific with content matching module requirements.
  • All activity is structured into timetabled sessions.


At Level 5: Scaffolded Short Placements (120 hours) – limited availability

  • Students undertake one on one short placements with an employer.
  • The placement is built around a subject-specific placement project.
  • Students can access managed office space at SHU or on-line.
  • Students are supported by a series of face to face and/or online workshops.


At Level 6: Small Group Consultancy Projects

  • Students work on consultancy projects directly with employers.
  • Full module engages with the model.
  • Students work in small groups
  • Each small group works directly with one employer and are fully responsible for managing their own project (with their tutor available to guide).

Alternatively, students returning from their sandwich placement each bring a project from their placement employer. Although, students work individually on their project; the small group acts as consultants for each other.


Biggs, J. (1996). Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment. Higher Education, 32(3), 347–364. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00138871

Biggs, J. (2003). Teaching for quality learning at university (2nd ed.). Buckingham: Open University Press.

Birenbaum M. (1996) Assessment 2000: Towards a Pluralistic Approach to Assessment. In: Birenbaum M., Dochy F.J.R.C. (eds) Alternatives in Assessment of Achievements, Learning Processes and Prior Knowledge. Evaluation in Education and Human Services, vol 42. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-011-0657-3_1

Gulikers, J., Bastiaens, T., & Kirschner, P. (2004). A five-dimensional framework for authentic assessment. Educational Technology Research and Development, 52(3), 67–86. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02504676

Harris, L., Jones, M., & Coutts, S. (2010). Partnerships and learning communities in work‐integrated learning: designing a community services student placement program. Higher Education Research & Development, 29(5), 547–559. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2010.502288

Herrington, A. & Herrington, J. (2006). Authentic learning environments in higher education. Hershey, PA: Information Science Pub.

Herrington, A. & Herrington, J. (2006). Authentic learning environments in higher education. Hershey, PA: Information Science Pub.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as a Source of Learning and Development. London: Prentice Hall.

Wickramasinghe, V., & Perera, L. (2010). Graduates’, university lecturers’ and employers’ perceptions towards employability skills. Education + Training, 52(3), 226–244. https://doi.org/10.1108/00400911011037355