This article explores the varied learning experiences among third-year students undertaking a structured work placement module in the furniture and wood manufacturing industries. Using situated learning theory, the article considers the outcomes of in-depth interviews with 10 students and offers an insight into the multifaceted interactions between ‘novices’ (students) and ‘experts’ in the workplace. Through the experiences and voices of students, the research uncovers evidence of two-way learning between the students and their work colleagues, particularly where the work environment and management support opportunities for knowledge and skills transfer. Three broad themes emerge from those interviews: (1) most students considered that workplaces facilitated opportunities for learning; (2) few barriers to learning were experienced by students; and (3) in most cases, students felt they had opportunities to introduce new skills. This qualitative piece of research underlines the importance for organizations to develop and promote the workplace as a ‘learning environment’ and to nurture new members so that they can contribute to learning, to the ultimate benefit of the whole organization. The findings highlight the positive role of curriculum design in accelerating the journey towards full participation for new members in a community of practice.
For universities, the findings highlight the role that curriculum design can play in positively affecting the learning trajectory of students (and graduates) along the newcomer–oldtimer continuum. The relevance and currency of that curriculum can also provide rich dividends for graduates in terms of employability skills