Stay up to date with the latest developments and milestones of eWBL (Work-based learning) project.
The Slovenian National Report on Digital Work-based Learning (eWBL) is Published
The report summarises the results of five case studies conducted in Slovenia (University of Ljubljana) as part of our Erasmus+ project eWBL. The aim of the study was to investigate how the University of Ljubljana deals with the pedagogical and technological challenges associated with the transition from workplace-based learning (WBL) to the online environment (eWBL) and what solutions it has developed. The study focuses on the experiences of companies, non-governmental organisation, the public sector, and the University of Ljubljana in providing online or hybrid WBL opportunities for students during the COVID- 19 pandemic. In each case, the perspective of three key stakeholders in the context of WBL was included: students, mentors from businesses, NGO and the public sector, and university (faculty coordinators for WBL and pedagogical mentors).
This national report focuses specifically on the experience of the University of Ljubljana. According to Pavlin (2014), the main policy driver for the implementation of WBL in Slovenia and the practice orientation of higher education in general is related to the implementation of the Bologna Process and its link to better employability of graduates. Our previous research showed that there is no unified definition of WBL in Slovenia. We could classify WBL as a process that provides students with real work experiences in the form of internships, traineeships, which can also be called systematic onboarding, and entrepreneurships.
The Slovenian national report combines eWBL experiences offered as part of five case study programmes at University of Ljubljana where WBL is mandatory as an internship as part of the degree programmes. At the University of Ljubljana, WBL took place only on-site during the period prior to Covid-19. Recruitment of interns was done in different ways, with the help of faculty coordinators for WBL or on students' own initiative. Nevertheless, the majority of faculties have a well-established network of WBL providers and the process of WBL takes place in a well-organised process with monitoring, assessment, and evaluation involving all three stakeholders (students, mentors, and faculty departments).
When Slovenia was suddenly hit by the Covid -19 pandemic, the University of Ljubljana had to move all study to an online environment, with the mandatory WBL/internship being no exception. In these five study cases, some significant differences were found, mainly in terms of WBL management, quality assurance and assessment/evaluation process, and learning outcomes compared to the on-site WBL. Some of these differences were seen as drivers, but also as barriers. In particular, the challenges lie in communication and adapting to new learning processes using online technological tools.
In some situations where only eWBL was conducted, students did not gain comparable experience to WBL conducted face-to-face. From the students' perspective, fewer soft skills and less communication were noted. Online communication was also less fluid as students were more reserved. There was also a lack of practical examples that students could otherwise see and experience in face-to-face work when observing colleagues or talking to them at work. On the other hand, many students and mentors reported that they gained many crisis management skills.
The main obstacle for all three actors (student, mentor and WBL faculty coordinator) is the technical preparation of interns to access all of the company's online systems and platforms. If the interns have a poor Wi-Fi connection, it could be a problem for the organisation, quality of work, results, delays, etc. In some cases, the main obstacle for interns was the lack of personal contact with the mentor or faculty supervisor. Many students also see technological aspects as the main driving force - new online tools or upgrades to the tools they were previously using, and students were able to quickly adapt and deal with crisis management.
The pedagogical innovations related to online socialisation and corporate team building have been more frequent. One of the solutions was to move some of the experiments, which previously could not be conducted outside the designated laboratory spaces with special equipment, to the online world. In addition, many research quizzes were offered to replace the top-down approach of the faculty and work mentors, to break the routine, and to motivate the students. In some cases, online games related to professional activities were conducted and more online follow-up meetings, supervision, and working with a group of interns facing the same challenges were introduced by faculty mentors, which was perceived as a great benefit that would not occur in this form in on-site WBL.
Different disciplines and views of all three stakeholders in these five cases have different perspectives on the future of eWBL. Numerous students will later be subjected to remote work in some of their regular jobs, even though they would prefer to work face-to-face because remote work means less cost to an organisation. Remote work has been shown to save time that would be spent commuting to work. The only problematic aspect of remote work is the lack of social contact (including brainstorming and live interactions) between colleagues. Good technology and support from IT are the main factors that make eWBL possible and of high quality. Also, HE needs to take a more active role in providing adequate equipment and space for students. The focus should be on further developing the quality of online tools, taking into account the psychological and socialisation effect.