This post was co-authored by Professor Tracy Levett-Jones and Rhiannon Hall.

The next First and Further Year Experience (FFYE) Forum follows the TACT Hot Topic on Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) – an essential component students’ learning experiences, in which academic activities are directly relevant to practical application in the workplace. At the forum Professor Tracy Levett-Jones, Head of School, School of Nursing & Midwifery will discuss the importance of sense of belonging to students’ WIL experiences.

Professor Tracy Levett-Jones, Head of School, Nursing & Midwifery, outlines the importance of WIL in nursing

There is widespread agreement that WIL experiences are of critical importance to contemporary higher education. In nursing, WIL is conducted in both simulated clinical settings and in authentic healthcare contexts where students develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values of a registered nurse. Immersed in the complexity of practice, students have opportunities to communicate with patients and their families, observe and learn from role models, and practise their technical and non-technical skills under supervision.

Professor Tracy-Levett Jones

The Ascent to Competency Framework

Essential to meaningful and positive WIL experiences is a strong sense of belonging. Tracy has conducted a number of studies examining nursing students’ WIL experiences. She has identified that the need to belong is a fundamental and pervasive human motivation and that a failure to meet this need can impede students’ motivation for and capacity to learn both in academic and workplace settings. Tracy’s research also resulted in the development of the Ascent to Competence Framework (ACF) (Levett-Jones & Lathlean, 2009).

The ACF framework applies a modified version of Maslow’s (1987) theory of human motivation to the WIL experiences of nursing students. The title of the ACF, indicates that the primary purpose of WIL is to facilitate students’ learning and progress towards the attainment of competence in the fullest sense of the word. The ACF has five levels arranged in a hierarchy of importance beginning with the most basic needs at the base of the pyramid; they include: the need for safety and security, the need to belong and be accepted, the need for a healthy self-concept, the need to learn and, finally, the need to become a competent practitioner.

Helping nursing students achieve a sense of belonging

The ACF was first developed in 2007 as part of an international, multi-site study. By providing an alternative perspective on the challenges related to WIL and student learning, viewed through the lens of belongingness, the ACF reconceptualises students’ experiences in a way that is meaningful and of practical significance to nursing education and, in turn, can improve the preparation of nurses for practice. Since 2007, the sense of belonging research has been replicated in multiple contexts, disciplines and countries and the ACF has been used to inform orientation programs and curricula.

It has become increasingly apparent that WIL experiences designed to foster students’ sense of belonging, learning and competence require collaborative partnerships between universities, industry partners and regulatory authorities. Academic and organisational leaders, mentors, managers and the students themselves all play an integral role in creating the types of positive and meaningful WIL experiences that lead to future career success.

Professor Tracy Levett-Jones

Head to the FFYE Forum to learn more

At the FFYE forum next week, Tracy will present her research on belonging and the ACF and the impact it has on WIL experiences. She will also discuss how the ACF can be used to guide decision-making and processes related to the organisation, implementation and evaluation of WIL experiences.

To hear more about the ACS, make sure to register your attendance at the FFYE Forum. Come along to learn more about the practical importance of belonging on students’ WIL experiences from Tracy and other UTS academics.


Levett-Jones, T., & Lathlean, J. (2009). The ‘Ascent to Competence’ conceptual framework: An outcome of a study of belongingness. Journal of Clinical Nursing. 18(20), 2870-2879. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2008.02593.x.

Maslow, A. (1987). Motivation and Personality. Harper and Row, New York.

Feature image by Andy Roberts.

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