Education & Admissions

20 Tips For Real Life Learning

By Tom Vander Ark | Jul 7, 2020
Tom Vander Ark | ACHNET

Emma Haynie and Jordan Nash (above) are running a coffee shop in town and planning a charity car show. They are juniors at Ridgefield High, 20 miles north of Portland.

Jordan admitted that he was a procrastinator in some of his courses but, he added, his real world learning experiences were teaching him persistence and project management. “There is real money involved,” said Nash.

To expand access to real world learning, Ridgefield High joined the CAPS Network, more than 100 school districts committed to expanded access to real-world learning.

The Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) opened 10 years ago as a center for professions-based learning in the Blue Valley School District in southwest Kansas City. The CAPS goal is to fast forward into their future immersed in a professional culture, solving real world problems, using industry standard tools, mentored by professionals while receiving high school and college credit.

Real world learning is valuable but it takes preparation and sustained commitment. Following are 20 tips on how to boost engagement and relevance with real world learning.

Planning And Preparation

1. Community Engagement. If you want more youth engaged in meaningful projects, gaining the benefit of internships, pursuing valuable credentials, or hatching their first business —the place to start is community conversations about learning goals. Just ask, “What’s happening?, What does it mean?, and How to prepare?” The answers will yield a rich graduate profile and support for real world learning. (See Battelle’s for examples).

2. Career Awareness. Help students develop a broad and forward-leaning view of where and how they could contribute. Cajon Valley Union School District (@cajonvalleyusd) systematically introduces students to the World of Work through 54 career exploration experiences between kindergarten and eighth grade. Each experience includes exploration, simulation, meet a pro and practice. (Other resources include Roadtrip Nation and Naviance.)

3. Quality Advising. Quality guidance is often delivered through an advisory system, a distributed counseling model that ensures that every student has a sustained adult relationship monitoring social and academic development and promoting broad exposure to career options. A trusted advisor and a good algorithm can provide personalized and localized career and postsecondary awareness and planning while helping young people match their strengths, interests and values with market opportunities.

4. Skills Assessment. Formal skill assessment and informal interest determination are both important to individualize a work-based learning program. Tests like ACT WorkKeys can be useful. An assessment baseline at beginning aids in the process of career development and program evaluation.

5. Time And Space. It can be challenging to make room in a busy high school schedule for work-based learning. That may mean making it a graduation requirement and reducing other requirements. Incentives for participation can also help. Students in more than 600 career academies aim at the NAFTrack diploma which requires a 120-hour certified internship. CareerWise Colorado advocates for paid apprenticeships.

6. Experience Planning. Rather than throwing students into difficult work settings, a scaffold of activities can build student identity and prepare them for success. Valuable experiences include workplace visits, job shadows, community connected projects (#16), mock interviews, and summer jobs.

Schools can also promote workplace values like respect, responsibility, curiosity and doing your best. In Denver, DSST schools give students feedback on these values on a regular basis.

7. Student Preparation. Students need job-ready skills to be successful in work-based learning. They need to know how to shake hands, how to introduce themselves, how to answer questions in an interview, how to read social situations. Orientation should include practice interactions and tips on appropriate behavior and dress. They are learning these skills at CAPS in Blue Valley, Kansas (below) and across the CAPS Network.

Cristo Rey is a network of 35 urban Catholic schools where students spend a day a week in a work study. Member schools do a great job of preparing students for success in the workplace. Work-based learning preparation can be part of an advisory system.

8. Professional Learning For Educators. Key to great real-world learning for students is a sustained commitment to quality learning for teachers. Members of the CAPS Network learn from and with each other. Many CAPS teachers attend the Summer Huddle.

Indiana teachers are required to engage in 15-hour externships with local businesses. While well intentioned, the quality of these experiences is often a function