What Is Higher Education’s ‘Learner Ladder’?

The journey through higher education is a formative time for every learner. Usually beginning in our late teens, it’s often where we learn to fully operate in adult society both socially and professionally, and learn the skills that will form the foundations of our desired careers. But fully realising our dream career takes more than just an education – it requires a self-confidence and sense of agency that lets you say “this is what I do, and where I belong”. Achieving this state takes time and effort from both the learner and their educators – but once they’re there, it makes surviving the working world a whole lot easier. So what’s the process? Well, we call it the Learner Ladder. Let’s climb up.

The Learner Sees Themselves as a Student

At the bottom of the Learner Ladder is your run-of-the-mill, everyday student. They have little to no practical experience with their subject of study, and probably a low theoretical understanding too. Internally, they identify their occupation as ‘student’ above anything else, even if they are working. Many learners at this stage may not even be sure that what they’re studying now is what they want to do as a career. And that’s all okay! This is a great time to try lots of things, to learn broadly rather than deeply, to see what possibilities are out there. Once the learner finds something that clicks with them, that they’re willing to commit to, they can move on to the next rung of the Ladder.

The Learner Sees What a Practitioner Is

In the middle of the ladder, the learner is interested in what a career in their field of study might look like. They do some more specialised tertiary coursework, completing assessments that may replicate common tasks in the field. Or, more commonly, their institution may focus instead on knowledge-building, giving them a strong theoretical education without many opportunities for practical, hands-on experience. In this instance, there is one assessment style that will help learners climb the Ladder more than any other: roleplay. Roleplay-based assessments put learners in the shoes of practitioners, giving them a glimpse of the mindset and knowledge base needed to operate in the field, as well as the kinds of processes undergone by a practitioner on a regular basis. By operating within a roleplay scenario rather than a live one, learners can experiment and adapt without fear of failure or harsh consequences.

Roleplay does more than just give practical knowledge, however. What makes roleplay-based assessments so effective in preparing learners for their careers is more social, more personal. By stepping into the shoes of a practitioner, the learner starts to think “oh, maybe this is something that I could do”. This change in perspective and boost in self-confidence provides motivation and perseverance in spades for the learner, helping them apply themselves ever further towards becoming a working practitioner in their field.

The Learner Sees Themselves as a Practitioner

It can take some time before a learner moves up the Ladder from “I could do this” to “this is what I do”. With that time, and the self-confidence gained in the middle of the Ladder, comes more practical experience. Whether that’s through further tertiary education, self-motivated progression, or a professional work experience or internship, once they arrive here, their mentality will take them the rest of the way. Now they’re ready to head into the working world, continue learning and improving, and be a true practitioner.

What Does This Mean for Educators?

The Learner Ladder is a helpful way to frame the progression of education. It may not precisely apply to every learner, course, or institution, but the broad ideas help frame a deeper truth for educators: true growth doesn’t come from content. Instead, it comes from the learner’s personal relationship to the content. The real value of roleplay-based assessments and the Learner Ladder concept is that they give educators the opportunity to be role models, showcasing what a professional relationship with the course’s content looks like in the real world. Learners see this relationship, then step into it carefully, then embody it as they move up the ladder – and their practical knowledge will follow.
If you’re interested in applying a roleplay-centric approach to your course or curriculum, Ardacious are the practitioners to speak to. We combine decades of teaching experience with a unique Augmented Reality software platform that lets learners experience scenario-based learning like never before, as well as unique insights into how roleplay-based assessments can be best implemented to fit your specific needs. To learn more and get in contact with us, head on over to https://ardacious.com/ today.