Facilitating Learning

Practice based teaching and learning happens in a variety of workplaces and settings including hospitals, schools and community based agencies. Regardless of the setting, helping others learn depends on effective communication strategies and clear learning goals. Consequently, the teacher-student relationship is crucial to the learning process.

The following resources are designed to assist you to feel more confident in your role as educator.

Remember - if you have any concerns about your student’s progress on placement please contact your Professional Practice Coordinator as soon as possible.

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Understanding how adults learn best is key to being an effective professional practice educator. Adult learning theory is based around six key principles (Knowles, 1984).

Knowles's Six Principles of Adult Learning

Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experiences.

Kolb, 1984

Experiential learning is the process of making meaning from direct experience, or to put it another way: "learning from experience". Aristotle once said, "For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them".

Kolb's Learning Process

Professional placement provides students with the ideal opportunity to learn through experience. The Kolb Learning process is a theory of how learning will be a continuous process throughout a student's placement experience. This process is characterised by experiencing, reflecting, thinking and applying skills and knowledge in the professional environment.


Inquiry-Based Learning

Inquiry or problem based learning and role playing provide opportunities for development of reasoning skills and application of theory to a practical situation without the pressures of patient involvement. Through discussion and interaction with other students, they can problem solve, share resources and learn through the experience of others.

Inquiry Based Learning Model

In the professional placement environment we know that students learn from the workplace environment itself, by doing, and by observing others. This makes learning a social process. In the professional placement environment this is appropriate as you, the educator, will act as a role model for students undertaking placement.  Through observation, student behaviour will be learnt and reinforced by this process of observation.

Such learning extends beyond observation of clinical skills and includes role modelling effective communication, teamwork, maintaining a work life balance and investing in your own wellbeing.  It should be noted that observation of behaviour can be both positive and negative. The social learning theory also extends beyond the student-educator relationship to include general social context and behaviours that will be experienced within the health care setting (i.e. observing clients' engagement and reactions to assessment and treatment).

The social context and a student’s ability to learn are directly related. Recognising the importance of the environment on learning will enhance your student’s learning experience.  A report commissioned by Health Workforce Australia identified the following key elements of quality in clinical placements:

  1. A culture for quality, comprising relationships, learning, and best-practice;
  2. Effective supervision founded on a good supervisory relationship;
  3. Learning opportunities largely supported participation in direct patient care;
  4. Effective communication and collaboration between students, academic institutions, and placement sites to ensure adequate placement preparation; and
  5. Resources and facilities to conduct placement activities (HWA, 2012)

Research indicates that people differ in their approach to learning and that no one strategy will result in high-quality learning circumstances for all individuals.

Zoghi, Brown, Williams, Roller, Jaberzadeh, Palermo & Holt (2010)

As individuals, we all have different preferences on how we approach new learning. Learning styles can be influenced by past experiences, education, work and the learning situation. It is important to recognise that they are not fixed but may be adapted according to context and what is being learned. Nevertheless, most people still favour one style of learning.

Key Points

  • Adults have preferred learning styles
  • Know your own style
  • Be aware of other learning styles
  • Acknowledge the preferred learning style of your student
This will assist you to:
  • Identify areas in need of improvement
  • Design strategies for enhanced learning

For further information regarding learning styles and different approaches to teaching based on learning styles please review Learning Styles.

As educators we need to clearly articulate learning goals, strategies and outcomes for our students. To achieve this, effective educators utilise a range of skills, techniques and practices. We have included links to a range of resources that we hope will enable you to feel increasingly confident in your role as professional practice educator.

If you don’t know what your student needs to learn while they are on placement with you how will you be able to teach them and assess their learning?

A good starting point is asking your student (and yourself) the following questions: what are the most important things your student should know (cognitive), be able to do (skills), or value (affective) after completing the placement?

Once you have answered these questions you can then develop the appropriate learning and assessment tasks. You can only know if a student can complete a task by observation.

There are numerous models that help to illustrate the learning development process. These models may be useful in order to focus your efforts and to insure realistic expectations of student development.

Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives

Miller's Triangle of Clinical Competence

Another valuable vehicle for learning is the practice of active reflection. Whilst feedback tends to promote skill acquisition and competency, reflection leads to individual growth and interpretation of the greater meaning and implications of an experience or action. It is important to establish a reflective atmosphere with your student.

Techniques for Reflective Journaling

Debriefing is an effective way of providing immediate support to the student through engagement in formal structured reflection of actions and incidents after they have occurred.

  • What went well in that session?
  • What could have been improved?
  • If you were to do that again how would you do it differently?

Debriefing sessions are useful both for individual sessions or in groups. If having a group debriefing session it is important to involve the whole group and not just the student who was involved in the incident. It is also important not to make it a session where you criticise an intervention or a student's performance. Debriefing sessions are very useful sessions to have when things have gone very well as well as when things have not gone as planned.

You may wish to use debriefing:

  • following the students' interaction with a particularly challenging client
  • when a client has died
  • when a client's behaviour has been alarming
  • when a student has performed an intervention with better than expected results
  • when a student has an interesting or complicated case

Anderson, L. W. & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.) (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of educational objectives: Complete edition, New York: Longman.

Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.

Biggs, J. (2003). Teaching for Quality Learning at University (2nd ed.). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2007). Approaches to Learning. In Teaching for Quality Learning at University (3rd ed.). Buchingham UK: McGraw Hill Open University Press.

Buchel, T., & Edwards, F. (2005). Characteristics of Effective Clinical Teachers. Residency Education, 37(1), 30-35.

Graffam, B. (2008). Deriving better questions: creating better clinical instruction. The Clinical Teacher, 5, 98-102.

Hutchinson, L. (2003). ABC of Learning and Teaching Educational Environment. British Medical Journal, 326, 810-812.

Kolb, A. & Kolb, D. (2005). Learning Styles and Learning Spaces: Enhancing Experiential Learning in Higher Education. Academy of Management, Learning and Education, 4(2), 193-212.

Leib, S. (2008). Principles of Adult Learning. Retrieved 20th July, 2010, from http://honolulu.hawii.edu/intranet?committees/FacDevCom/guidebk/teachtip/adults-2htm

Lekkas, P., Larsen, T., Kumar, S., Grimmer, K., Nyland, L., Chipchase, L., Jull, G., Buttrum, P., Carr, L., & Finch, J. (2007). No model of clinical education for physiotherapy students is superior to another: A systematic review. Australian Journal of Physiotherapy, 53: 19-28.

Kaufmann, D. (2003). ABC of Learning and Teaching in Medicine Applying Educational Theory in Practice. British Medical Journal, 326, 213-216.

Knowles, Malcolm S. The modern practice of adult education. New York: New York Association Press, 1970.

Kolb, D. A. 1984, Chapter 2. In D. Kolb, The experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Miller GE. (1990). The assessment of clinical skills/competence/performance. Acad Med. 65: 563-7.

Molodysky, E., Sekelja, N., & Lee, C. (2006). Identifying and Training Effective Clinical Teachers Australian Family Physician, 35(1/2).

Nicol, D. (2007). Principles of good assessment and feedback: Theory and practice. From the REAP International Online Conference on Assessment Design for Learner Responsibility, 29th-31st May, 2007. Retrieved from https://www.york.ac.uk/media/staffhome/learningandteaching/documents/keyfactors/Principles_of_good_assessment_and_feedback.pdf 30 September 2015.

QOTFC (2009) The Clinical educator's resource kit. Retrieved 10th July, 2010 from http://www.qotfc.edu.au/

Sargeant, J. (2008). Toward a common Understanding of Self-Assessment. Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, 28(1), 1-4.

Siggins Miller Consultants (2012), Promoting Quality in Clinical Placements: Literature  review and nationalstakeholder consultation. Adelaide: Health Workforce Australia.

Swanson–Fisher, R. & Lynagh, M. (2005). Problem Based Learning: A Dissemination Success Story? The Medical Journal of Australia, 183(5), 258-260.

Zoghi, M., Brown, T., Williams, B., Roller, L., Jaberzadeh, S., Palermo, C. & Holt, T. A. (2010). Learning style preferences of Australian health science students. Journal of Allied Health, 39(2), 95-103.