Learner Identity

Students transitioning to the workforce must connect with their intended profession and ‘become’ professionals (Jackson 2016). They must feel confident and suitably equipped to consider themselves worthy of graduate-level employment (Holmes 2015). Jackson (2017) draws on Baxter Magolda’s (1998) self-authorship framework in describing the stages that students must transition through in their development of what she terms ‘pre-professional identity’. Others (Creamer and Laughlin 2005; Pizzolato 2005) have also used self-authorship as a framework to conceptualise PI in higher education (HE) students.

At the first stage in the framework, students develop a basic understanding of the norms, expectations and values in order to frame their behaviour so it is appropriate for their chosen profession.

They then progress through stages where they are no longer accepting that every way shown to them is correct but instead questioning existing knowledge and practice. They seek effective ways of doing things and start to develop the stance of a critical practitioner. Finally, they become ‘immersed’ in their profession, collaborating with others and actively contributing to change and new ways of working

Project-based learning can be another effective approach for developing PI (see, for example, Tan et al. 2016; Wiele et al. 2017). Wiele and colleagues found Marketing student engagement with ‘real’ clients through project-based consultancy challenged students’ self-perception and encouraged them to think beyond grade achievement.

They assert, ‘the culture of the firm, the immersion in the business context and high autonomous interaction with the project stakeholders effectively allow the learners to find themselves as professionals’ (60). Continuing the theme of authenticity, Lucas and colleagues (2014) advocated the importance of real world problem-solving through – for example – competitions, projects, and entrepreneurial pitches to industry panels in helping to develop Engineering students to ‘think and act like’ Engineers. Vaughan (2017) asserted the importance of workplace learning in shaping identity and disposition. She argues that opportunities for capability and identity development are central to the workplace and learner – in this study, apprentices – exposure to significant learning experiences (termed ‘vocational thresholds’) helped to define their vocational identity.

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