Learning Goals

Work integrated learning (WIL) is a teaching practice that uses learning in the workplace to achieve learning goals related to applying taught theory to practise and experiencing workplace environments. It replaces structured classroom learning with a structured work environment, lecturers with peers and supervisors.

Industry also has an interest in ensuring you learn stuff and in most cases they will already have learning goals in mind for you. The alternative is learning by merely by turning up to work, however it is not considered by either professional workplaces or higher education that this reliably leads to good learning outcomes.

The method we use is to have you document learning goals that are of interest to you, relate to the work opportunity you have and draw upon Victoria University graduate attributes.

Typically learning goals will be one technical skill related to the work and two or three soft skills drawn from graduate attributes.

We suggest using SMART objectives (used extensively in industry and a short tutorial is provided below). For each goal, quantify your current level of skill (the start of your journey) and describe your goal (your destination). Your supervisor will suggest opportunities in the workplace for you to practise these skills (your journey plan).

Business Goals vs. Learning Goals

Business goals are driven by business needs, for example, satisfying client requirements. Business goals are often set by Directors and senior management. Your supervisor will have goals that will help meet these higher goals and of course you will take on tasks that contribute to these business goals.

Not achieving business goals has different consequences to not achieving personal goals (learning goals in this case). As an intern you are unlikely to be given tasks that are business critical, or there will be a back-up plan should the task prove unexpectedly difficult. As you gain experience however you will be relied on more to deliver on business goals, on time. Others will stop having back-up plans and will rely on your experience and professionalism to keep everyone informed of potential problems.

Not achieving personal goals in contrast, typically has minimal effect on the business and is not usually a cause for concern (in your report, talk about what you achieved in your journey).

Skills

The technical skill might be related to, for example, a language like Ruby, a framework like Flask, a process like Agile or a library like React, and there are many other options available.

The two or three soft skills may be drawn from from the Bachelor of Engineering or Victoria University Graduate Attributes Profiles (paraphrased);
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Communicating complex ideas in a range of contexts
  • Openness to ideas and continuous learning
  • International perspectives
  • Engagement with communities
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Capacity for leadership
  • Effective written and oral reports
  • Managing risk and uncertainty

SMART Objectives

The SMART acronym describes the elements that make up a useful objective, as opposed to expressing vague intentions and never being certain they have been achieved.

S pecific
M easurable
A ction oriented
R ealistic
T ime bound

The most common difficulty had by those new to goal setting, is the second, Measurable. But lets work through them all using the example, "I want to improve my Ruby on Rails skills." This expresses a good sentiment, however it can be shaped a little better.

The first critique; does it require you to do anything more than merely turn up to work? This relates to Action oriented. Goals need you to be pro-active rather than the lucky recipient of circumstances. Listening to fellow staff talk about Ruby will achieve this goal. Of course the unexpressed intent here is to write code.

"I wish to improve my ability to write Ruby on Rails code."

This also contributes to being Specific, but could still get better. There is no reference here to the workplace context. This goal could be achieved without the workplace experience, a personal project for example.

"I will improve my ability to contribute to the Ruby on Rails code base at Flux Federation."

Assuming your work is at Flux this is getting better. Of course it can become more specific by referring to front or back end, or an internal project at Flux. For the moment this will suffice.

The hard question, is this Measurable? How will you know you have succeeded? Are you relying on internal assessment "I think I have improved" or might external assessment in the workplace provide you with more certainty. "My peers/boss are telling me I am improving and they are happy". Asking others is always hard, however peers and supervisors are always happy to provide feedback if they understand the journey you are on.

A common way to measure success is to tie it to the project or business goal. If you are setting business goals, this is important. However if you are setting learning goals, not so much. For example, imagine learning lots of Ruby skills through an internship and in the last week, business circumstances change and your project code is not used. Does this imply you have failed to learn? Of course not, what it implies is that your goal was not measuring your learning.

Measuring technical learning is fairly easy. Your goal is likely to feel you have contributed in some way to the production code base. For example, for many new interns, getting code through the peer review process and into production is a major success and validation that you have created code that is up to workplaces standards. Completing tutorials, reviewing tools, framework and libraries or peer reviewing the code of others may also be useful. Alternatively think of the steps you need to take to learn a topic, list them as action points and that becomes your goals.

Measuring soft skills is also fairly easy. Target the activity that will lead to improvement, for example, "I will present to the company four times on my projects progress." Or alternatively involve your supervisor or mentor in the process, interview them at the start on what they think good skills look like and interview them at the end to see if, in their eyes, you have improved. A little reassurance here, if you give it a go, you cannot help but improve.

"I aim to contribute to the Ruby on Rails code base at Flux Federation, success is the first time that my code passes peer review and is accepted into production code."

I can hear students claiming "But this implies learning stops after this point!". I suggest that of course learning carries on, what this goal provides is a concrete point where you can say "this goal done" and take a moment to enjoy it. Setting subsequent goals is easy and in fact this is what occurs in industry at all levels. Completing many small goals that contribute to larger business goals.

This brings us to Time bound. For our example, we probably want to achieve this early in our internship; however the only person who can assess what is reasonable is your supervisor; by using their knowledge of the workplace, their training regime, code base and your current skills. For example, many work places have interns start by fixing bugs rather than adding new features (which may also add to Specific). For this example we will be conservative, we want to achieve this early in the work experience, not at the end.

"My goal at Flux Federation is to contribute to their Ruby on Rails code base by adding a small new feature. Success is having that code pass peer review and be accepted into production code within my first six weeks."

Is this Realistic? Goals that are not realistic are merely wishful thinking. You will need to chat with your supervisor to test this, s/he is your reality check. This is also a good point to mention that not meeting your learning goals within the time frame specified is not cause for concern. It is the striving and improvement made in the process that is important. Plus this recognises that stuff outside your control happens and sometimes gets in the way. Celebrate your wins, that includes near misses on learning goals smile

"I want to improve my Ruby on Rails skills." - a commendable intention

"My goal at Flux Federation is to contribute to their Ruby on Rails code base by adding a small new feature. Success is having that code pass peer review and be accepted into production code within my first six weeks." - a concrete goal

Learning Goal Templates

The templates are the same, merely saved in two formats.