Stakeholders involved in shaping the future of tourism and hospitality business management degrees have faced a dilemma over recent years. On the one hand, graduates who are taken on by the industry require practical skills that the industry wants, but on the other, the fact that they are studying in a higher education institution means that they are required to consider theories and reflect on complex themes and concepts it real world contexts (Wood, 2013). The challenge is therefore to provide curricula that develop academic rigour, but also to provide the necessary business management skills that the industry requires, particularly if graduates are going to be employed in a work placement, during or after their course. The use of field trips to hospitality operators where students do research in a real work environment introduces a deep learning approach using experiential learning techniques. Such approaches encourage reflective practice (Lashley, 2007, Bobbitt et al., 2000, Feinstein et al., 2002). Experiential learning, which is sometimes termed ‘real world’ learning involves the student in a wide variety of learning processes that requires them to use active processes in stimulating and challenging environments (Feinstein et al., 2002, Murphy and Jong, 2009). The most effective techniques are those that see students attempt assignments before, during and after a field visit in order to reflect on the experience at both collective and individual bases.
Kolb explored the type of psychological sate that a person needs to be in to successfully engage with experiential learning theory. He suggested that there are four modes of feeling that are associated with the learning cycle - Abstract Conceptualisation (AC), Active Experimentation (AE), Concrete Experience (CE) and Reflective Observation (RO). His model suggests that learning involves two
dialectical modes for grasping experience- Concrete Experience and Abstract Conceptualisation. There are also two dialectical modes for transforming experience-Reflective Observation and Active Experimentation (Kolb, 1984). These modes of learning have informed recent innovations that the author has brought to experiential learning in a range of BSc programmes in Tourism, Hospitality and Cruise Management. The programmes have been successful because of the industry partnerships that they are supported by. The author has developed and led a creative new approach to experiential learning, which drives immersive student participation.
The Hospitality Management ‘Learning Journey’ was introduced to the curriculum in 2012 and it is now a firmly established unique selling point of the programmes that it is embedded within. Two learning journeys in particular have been successful, and these are a stage 1 hospitality business orientation trip to central and northern Scotland, and a stage 2 facilities management trip to Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
The learning journey approach is based on the central principles of a form of tourism industry benchmarking which communicates the ‘best practice’ aspects of business, such as processes, service philosophies and visitor experiences to students who witness operations management first-hand as part of a structured learning activity.
These learning journeys differ from traditional ‘field trip’ models of learning since they are systematically structured, and each of the contributing stakeholders receives a comprehensive brief about the learning that must take place ahead of the trip. A structured learning resource is produced for students, and this is disseminated in electronic and hard copy formats. Participants are briefed to interface with this resource and to use it to record key observations in the immediacy of the experiences involved. Crucially, these experiences are linked directly to Learning Outcomes and
to assessments (with contingency plans for sickness and non-attendance) and so there is a strong emphasis on field ‘work’ rather than on field ‘trips’. In this sense, these initiatives are examples of best practice in creating experiential learning with a purpose. They draw upon unique networks of professional, incumbent entrepreneurs
and managers in hospitality. As ‘products’ on tourism and hospitality programmes these experiences are inimitable and they lend the programmes competitive a unique identity. Linking experiential learning directly to learning outcomes makes enrichment activities such as residential learning journeys more meaningful to students, and participants are often highly motivated to attend and participate. Such an approach satisfies the requirement to develop practical thinking alongside the need to consider theories and reflect on complex themes in hospitality management settings.
Wight, C. (2019, April). Making an Impact: Student Learning Journeys in Tourism and Hospitality Programmes. Paper presented at The 2019 Vienna International Academic Conference, Vienna, Austria