Access and equity: the two most important aspects of applied learning

When designing applied learning experiences, remember to consider these two vital aspects. Muhammad Rahimi and Kenneth Keng Wee Ong offer their advice


20 May 2024
bookmark plus
  • Top of page
  • Main text
  • More on this topic
A student sits at a laptop in a library
image credit: iStock/Szepy.

Created in partnership with

Created in partnership with

SIT square logo

You may also like

Collaborative learning cases: a fresh approach to applied learning
Insight on a new approach to training students in applied learning from the medical school team at NUS

What’s more important than advancing access to applied learning experiences in higher education? It can provide students with practical skills and knowledge they’ll need for their future careers. All students, regardless of their background or prior achievements, should have the opportunity to develop these competencies.

But equity in these experiences makes sure that additional support is available to those who may need it, helping to level the playing field and enhance overall graduate employability. At the Singapore Institute of Technology, we have adopted multiple initiatives to advance access to and equity in applied learning.

These initiatives include offering core transferable skills modules to first-year students. The SIT Centre for Professional Communication (CPC) provides a four-credit critical thinking and communicating (CTC) module, communicating-across-the-curriculum (CAC) workshops embedded in discipline-specific content modules, e-micromodules and peer-tutoring.

Let’s quickly define access and equity for the purposes of this article. Access involves equipping students with core competencies, helping them to engage with discipline-specific content and successfully complete activities and assessments. Equity means providing additional learning to the students who require it to succeed in applied learning and research. This concept of equity focuses on addressing disparities in prior achievements, by providing the necessary resources and assistance to make sure all students have equal opportunity to succeed.

Enhance accessibility

The four-credit CTC module and CAC embedded instruction aim to meet critical communication requirements of the workplace. These improve students’ graduate employability and workplace communication competencies. Critical thinking and systems thinking skills are integrated into the curriculum and taught through explicit instruction, examples and real-life scenarios, customised specifically to the students’ disciplines and increasing student engagement as a result. 

Students complete authentic oral and written assignments, addressing real-life issues, evaluating evidence and making reasoned arguments. Using these skills underlines to the students how important they will be in their future careers, as well as their studies.

The curriculum emphasises the importance of communication. Students are encouraged to express their ideas clearly and coherently, in both writing and oral presentations. Building on what was taught during the first year in the CTC module, the CAC workshops embedded in students’ content modules in their second and third years focus on teaching competencies essential for writing genre-specific papers, reports, giving presentations and performing other workplace communication. For example, engineering undergraduates may learn about effective questioning as part of requirements elicitation, and food technology students may be taught skills for persuasive food product pitching. 

The curriculum is implemented through active learning methods, including the Socratic method, dialogic learning and collaborative problem-solving. These techniques engage students in the learning process and stimulate their skills for critical thinking, systems thinking and communication. By promoting a growth mindset, the curriculum encourages strategic effort and practice to improve these skills over time. We continually gather feedback from students and faculty, in order to make the necessary adjustments to the curriculum. 

Enhance equity

We set up the Communication Helpdesk, a peer tutoring service to provide students with additional support, helping to improve their critical thinking and communication skills. Along with e-micromodules, these additional supports are designed to advance equity in applied learning. 

The e-micromodules on workplace communication range from writing an email to managing meetings and are available online and accessible to students any time. Students can also retake them as many times as needed, allowing them to progress at their own pace, inclusive of all schedules and ability levels.

We’ve also recruited and trained peer tutors to provide constructive guidance and feedback, available on demand free of charge, even beyond office hours. Regardless of their financial situation, students have easy access to support. We also raise student awareness of the resources available through orientation programmes, posters and via faculty. 

Accessibility and equity are crucial to applied learning, but by integrating critical thinking and communication skills into the curriculum and providing additional support with peer tutoring and e-micromodules, there’s no reason for them to be barriers to success. By adopting the strategies and offering students the support and flexibility they need, applied learning can be as accessible and equitable across higher education.

Muhammad Rahimi is an assistant professor and Kenneth Keng Wee Ong is director and assistant professor at the Centre for Professional Communication at the Singapore Institute of Technology. 

Acknowledgement: The curriculum and initiatives were designed by a team of faculty members at SIT’s Centre for Professional Communication. We would like to thank our colleague, Christopher Bedwell, for his feedback on an earlier version of this paper. 

If you would like advice and insight from academics and university staff delivered direct to your inbox each week, sign up for the Campus newsletter.


You may also like

sticky sign up

Register for free

and unlock a host of features on the THE site