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Real-life experience the road to success for creative students

In a world where the creative industry is becoming ever more competitive, combined with a drastically changed landscape as a result of the advancement of technology, old ways of preparing students for the world of work no longer suffice.

It has become a non-negotiable for students to immerse themselves in their studies in a way that replicates and mimics the environment they will encounter upon graduation, and there is no better way to achieve this than by Action Learning, says Dr. Carla Enslin, Head of Academics at IIE-Vega, a brand of The Independent Institute of Education, one of SA’s leading private higher education providers.

Action learning is a novel experiential learning approach that requires students to tackle problems with curiosity and active exploration, by determining the exact nature of a problem and answer the question as to how the stakeholders involved experience it in real terms.

Students collaborate with one another and the user groups involved, while sound boarding with their lecturers to develop original and meaningful solutions to challenges. The aim is to graduate resilient yet respectful creative strategists and strategic creatives – individuals who are creative solution seekers and value the significance of collective wisdom.

‘While the building of foundational knowledge is of course critical to strategic development and implementation, the digital world provides access to all available knowledge. Any student today can research and acquire the basics of “Anything and Everything 101”, even without a formal education,’ notes Dr. Enslin.

‘Knowledge without understanding is however both ineffective and, frequently, dangerous. In the spirit of resilience and lifelong learning, students need to take ownership of their own learning by utilising both customised interactive learning platforms, and whichever platforms the individual student feels most comfortable with. Using “lecture” time to discuss, debate and “do” provides the opportunity to interpret foundational knowledge under the guidance of seasoned academics and industry practitioners, and practice application, rather than regurgitation.’

Dr. Enslin says that in the fast-paced world of brand building, where it is imperative that brands are constantly ahead of the competition, employers seek individuals who can hit the ground running – individuals who know what to do without extensive additional training. It is therefore crucial that students are given the opportunity to practice – and fail – in a safe environment that develops the skills and confidence required to quickly become functional members of efficient workplace teams.

She says at a minimum, competent graduates must, upon entering the workforce, be able to:

– Critically explore and assess a situation to identify the real challenges;

– Think strategically and creatively to develop original and meaningful solutions;

– Collaborate productively in multi-disciplinary teams; and

– Create and add value, mindful of resources and the dynamics of developing markets.

‘This is why IIE-Vega has been pushing investment in the development of Action Learning over the past few years. Real-life briefs and case challenges from real-world clients are explored during all programmes and course years, and the annual IIE-Vega Brand Activations and Brand Challenges represent the pinnacle of this practice,’ she added.

‘Brand Activations and Brand Challenges engage multi-disciplinary student teams in the development and execution of solutions to real world brand problems. Students are encouraged to investigate the brand situation from a zero-base and to address issues with the development of original and meaningful brand and business plans and activations or strategies and full-scale creative communication executions.’

In addition to the annual Brand Activations and Brand Challenges, IIE-Vega implements Action Learning in many other ways such as Business Simulations in the BCom (Hons) and MCom degrees. Here, IIE-Vega students experience complex challenges and all the moving parts in navigating business scenarios. 

Action Learning throughout their studies also helps prepare exit-level design students to enter the jobs market or launch their own ventures with an industry-aligned design portfolio that shows individual strengths, versatility and their unique creative voice – a distinct advantage in a highly competitive field. Game Design and Development students regularly participate in national game jams where the outcomes are prototypes, and Interior Design students work in co-labs on design solutions for real-life clients.  

‘It is undeniable therefore that future creative students must carefully assess the value proposition of their chosen institution to ensure the curriculum is industry-aligned and has been updated to take into account the demands of the constantly changing environment we currently, and will continue to find, ourselves in,’ Dr Enslin says.

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