Post-secondary education serves as a cornerstone for personal development and plays a large role in shaping an individual’s career path. Such an education provides the opportunity to increase a student’s understanding of their chosen field and to develop important skills for their daily personal and work life. Experiential and practical experiences associated with a course or program helps keep students engaged, connects learning objectives to their real-world.

I’m excited today to welcome guest authors Meg Barnes and Sital Sigh from the University of Mississippi to discuss an opportunity their students have “preview the real world of work” in a virtual way.

Enjoy the read,

Lindsey Downs, WCET


How can educators prepare students for meaningful and rigorous work?

As educators, we encourage students to engage in a spectrum of experiences to test drive real-life roles and build resilient and transferable skills that are needed in the workplace. These experiences can include:

  • experiential education,
  • work-integrated learning,
  • collaborative problem-solving,
  • critical thinking in the classroom, and,
  • relevant learning materials with real-world applications and practical problems.

This case study offers an innovative educational method and a glimpse into digital learning by students previewing the world of work.

Partnering for Real World Experience: University of Mississippi + Forage

Forage is a technology startup that connects students with Fortune 500 companies and other organizations. The connection between students and those companies is a completely virtual experience. Students have the chance to see behind the curtain of the best companies around the world through free and self-paced virtual job simulations. With over 125+ employers and 290+ job simulations, Forage helps highlight the growing global desire to embrace flexible work arrangements and a shift in how in-field and relevant experiences are offered, and how companies attract, train, and hire the best talent.

Benefits

With the profound shifts in how employers and employees approach working environments, educators must continually consider ways to prepare college students in more meaningful and practical ways.

Employers seek resilient hires

Research conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that college students hoping to attract the attention of employers should emphasize problem-solving skills, followed closely by teamwork (Gray & Koncz, 2023).

Reprinted from Job Outlook 2023 with the permission of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, copyright holder.

“Increasingly, employers are more concerned about competencies and skills. So, candidates who can demonstrate experience, knowledge, and ability through their resume and applications will have the competitive edge.”

– NACE President & Chief Executive Officer Shawn VanDerziel

Real-world relevance boosts student confidence

Research shows that relevant education and job experiences influence students’ perceptions of their competence and potential. In particular, relevant or in-field work experience may enhance or bolster a student’s perceptions of self-confidence (Knouse, 1994).

Work experiences spur deeper, more engaged student learning

After students gain work experience, critical reflection is often optimized. Growing research promotes the approach that students need to develop, articulate, and showcase their skills, competencies, and capabilities (Jackson & Edgar, 2019).

The optimum engagement point is after students have had some work experiences, providing students with specific experiences to share, compare, reconcile, and critically consider how their educational goals help them achieve knowledge and skills for work. These educational experiences after a work experience promote career readiness and self-direction (Billett, 2015).

Instead of just being taught, students receive post-experience feedback and guidance from educators as an opportunity to personalize and invest in their education and its application in the real world. This approach also enhances employability upon graduation (Billett et al., 2018).

After reviewing the research, we asked those who are the most impacted by this topic on a daily basis – our students. Here’s what they said:

“After completing the Forage experience, I have identified several skills that need development to prepare me f“The Forage virtual experience helped me understand that I thrive in a fast-paced, challenging environment.”or success in the workforce during my time at UM. I aim to enhance my analytical skills, ensuring I can assess the environmental and social implications of business decisions. “I recognize the importance of effective communication in conveying the value of sustainable practices to various stakeholders. I also intend to actively seek opportunities for hands-on experiences, such as internships or research projects, where I can apply theoretical knowledge to real-world sustainability challenges.”

– Seth Walz-Jones, Student at the University of Mississippi, Second Year Student in Business 101 course, December 2023

The intersection of campus and industry

Gaining momentum in test-driving careers and empowering students to explore their career trajectories, university partners have collaborated with educators to promote “preskilling” (Monfared, 2022, para 7). Industries and organizations may develop the opportunities and intersect with campuses in offering workplace-specific training for college students relevant to a specific field or industry. These collaborative partnerships focus on building and strengthening learning through:

  • On-campus employment,
  • Internships,
  • Micro-internships,
  • Practicums,
  • Preceptorships,
  • Project-based studies,
  • Simulations.

As an emerging innovative method, online projects and digital platforms have grown as a trend, with students and industries communicating online while geographically dispersed (Kay et al., 2019)

Work-integrated learning through simulations is “focused on the student completing authentic, relevant actual tasks for an organization through a remote connection to the workplace/community” (Wood et al., 2020, p. 333).

“The Forage virtual experience helped me understand that I thrive in a fast-paced, challenging environment.”

– Matison Kerby, student at the University of Mississippi, Third Year Student in Business 101 course, December 2023

Insights from the University of Mississippi

The Forage adds to the toolbox of educational opportunities.

Forage embraces work-integrated learning with virtual and simulated experiences developed by employers and delivered to students through educational institutions (Cerimagic et al., 2022). These virtual experiences are designed to prepare students for actual work assignments and showcase the students’ capabilities and relevant industry skills. The modules can be delivered and packaged within a curriculum, as a supplemental activity for professional development, or as a micro-opportunity.

“As an instructor in business communication and a professional at the Mississippi Small Business Development Center, I’ve found The Forage virtual experience to be a transformative educational tool.  It bridges the gap between theoretical learning and real-world application, enriching students’ understanding of the business world. This platform not only complements academic learning but also equips students with essential problem-solving skills and critical thinking skills needed in today’s dynamic business environment.”

– Derek Stephens, Assistant State Director, Mississippi SBDC & Adjunct Instructor of Management

From Forage’s virtual simulated experiences, students build confidence, bolster career readiness, and strengthen practical skills:

  • 75% of students surveyed at the University of Mississippi reported being more confident in their understanding of the day-to-day realities of work,
  • 65% of students are more likely to apply for a role at that company, and,
  • 78% reported gaining practical skills through the experience.

These Forage virtual simulations and data reflect an encouraging inclination for students after completing relevant projects. The post-reflective movements of self-direction and career readiness in Billett’s research surfaced in the Forage simulations with post-experience reflections. Incorporating The Forage virtual simulations into student learning is an example of promising digital learning that can augment a student’s skillset, self-confidence, and career planning.

Infographic:
On the path to success. Insights from Forage and the University of Mississippi. Nearly 800 students answered questions about Forage. Key findings: Students are more confident (after Forage) in their understanding of work they would do in a job, students are more likely to apply for a role at a company, and 78% of students developed practical skills in the program.
Image creation: Sigh, Bellassai, & Barnes

References

Billett, S. (2015). Integrating practice-based experiences with higher education. Professional and Practice-Based Learning, 13, 1-26. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-7230-3_1

Billett, S., Cain, M., & Le, A. H. (2018). Augmenting higher education students’ work experiences: Preferred purposes and processes. Studies in Higher Education (Dorchester-on-Thames), 43(7), 1279-1294. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2016.1250073

Cerimagic, S., Arthars, N., Eden, D., and Grunfeld, J. (2022). Bridging education to employment through virtual experience placement. Ascilite Publications. E22215. https://doi.org/10.17442/apubs.2022.215

Gray, K. and Koncz, A. (2023, April 27). The job market for the class of 2023: Key skills/competencies employers are seeking and the impact of career center use. National Association of College and Employers. https://www.naceweb.org/about-us/press/the-job-market-for-the-class-of-2023-key-skills-competencies-employers-are-seeking-and-the-impact-of-career-center-use/

Jackson, D. A., & Edgar, S. (2019). Encouraging students to draw on work experiences when articulating achievements and capabilities to enhance employability. Australian Journal of Career Development, 28(1), 39-50. https://doi-org.umiss.idm.oclc.org/10.1177/1038416218790571

Kay, J., Ferns, S., Russell, L., Smith, J., & Winchester-Seeto, T. (2019). The Emerging Future: Innovative Models of Work-Integrated Learning. International Journal of Work-Integrated Learning, 20(4), 401-413.

Knouse, S. B. (1994). Impressions on the resume: The effects of applicant education, experience, and impression management. Journal of Business and Psychology, 9(1), 33-45.

Monfared, Y. (2022, February 8). How you can solve the skills gap. The Forage Talent Resource Center. https://employers.theforage.com/post/how-you-can-solve-the-skills-gap

Wood, Y. I., Zegwaard, K. E., & Fox-Turnbull. W. (2020). Conventional, remote, virtual and simulated work-integrated learning: A meta-analysis of existing practice. International Journal of Work-Integrated Learning, 21(4), 331-354.


Meg Barnes

Director of Career Preparation, Management Instructor, University of Mississippi

Sital Sigh

Project Manager, Adjunct Management Instructor, University of Mississippi

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