Introduction to Transferable Skills

Richard Beggs; Tab Betts; and Matt Parkman

Preparing students for the professional workplace, in addition to enabling them to develop discipline expertise, is becoming more and more important. These transferable skills are often seen as crucial factors that add to the individual’s employability (Nägele & Stalder, 2017). The World Economic Forum (2020) published the predicted top 10 skills for employment in 2025, highlighting the skills needed to succeed as well as those in demand; these range from critical thinking, problem solving and analytical skills to active learning, learning strategies and resilience. This demand has led to the development of some toolkits to encourage the fostering of these so called ‘soft’ skills in students such as the eLene4Life (2020) Dynamic Toolkit. The chapters collected under this theme explore various transferable skills, partnerships with industry and practical guides and tips to implementing them.

Academic Reading and Writing Skills

This section draws attention to the importance of active learning when considering more “academic” elements of teaching and learning. The use of active learning can enable learners to aid their engagement with activities such as reading, and essay/report writing.

Authors discuss ways in which these activities can become more interesting and engaging to learners, ultimately leading to positive outcomes. Suggestions include innovations such as Little’s student writing retreats, transferring practice from academic development workshops to undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, and Hancock’s dissertation speed dating.

Garnham describes her approach that breaks down the process of report writing into a series of active learning activities. The benefits of co-writing are explored by Middleton, whilst Rutschmann details a student-led Journal club that encourages discussion and critical engagement.

To get students reading high-quality academic sources, Stevens shares his approach to getting students in groups to read and share understanding in passes incrementally challenging them to delve deeper. Taylor describes her “10 steps to success” guide to writing essays for students that utilises active learning approaches, while Stockton-Brown shows how inviting students to engage with their emotional responses to set topics resulted in active – and deep – learning.

The underlying premise of all of the contributions within this section is to increase interaction between learners, providing opportunity for reflection, and ensuring safe environments for learners to discuss and explore ideas that interest them, which may ultimately help them in their written work.

Critical Thinking

Miri et al. (2007) state that students need to go beyond building their knowledge capacity to develop their higher-order thinking skills. This section of the book looks at ways in which learners can creatively engage with material in a critical manner, through the use of role-playing, research, and myth busting activities.

Hickey presents the idea of engaging learners through role-playing and visualisation of alternate viewpoints. The focus is on encouraging learners to move away from their “reflex” responses and perspectives and question scenarios through different mindsets. Detailed information is included for how to adapt this activity to synchronous and asynchronous settings.

Parkman discusses the importance of research and verification of information when presented with statements out of context. Her chapter reviews the opportunity for learners to generate conversations which are in line with their interests, enhancement of interpersonal skills and formation of evidence-based opinions.

Salim encourages us to consider the importance of providing learners the opportunity to develop their ability to form and present arguments in and knowledge and evidence-based manner through the use of “True or False”. This idea encourages active engagement in learners, with particular focus on substantiating responses regardless of support for the topic. Salim provides a comprehensive list of examples for transferring these skills to different contexts.


Reflection is often seen as a way to evolve and develop oneself to learn from our mistakes and do things differently next time. Zubizarreta (2009) emphasises how reflective thinking and judgment are effective stimuli to deep, lasting learning. This section explores how reflection activities and models that facilitate active learning can develop students as reflective practitioners.

Hancock  puts forward the DUCK (Describe, Understand, Change, Keep, Share) model to aid students in understanding the stages of reflection. She provides practical tips on how to adopt this practice in the physical classroom or via digital means using a Miro board or Google drawings to create simple drag and drop activities.

From a slightly different perspective Mellon explores how to facilitate reflective practice through triadic reflective dialogue. Using the guided conversation approach to encourage reflection in a safe environment.

Rhodes  discusses her practice of using strategically placed ‘Pause’ activities before, during and after to encourage reflection in her postgraduate module for staff new to teaching in Higher Education. Her overall aim of using this reflective approach is to encourage inclusive practice in her students.

In summary within this section, the reader will be offered a range of practical active learning approaches that encourage student reflection with step by step guidance and tips on adopting the practice outlined.

Work, Employability and Partnerships

Barnett and Coate (2005) state that by acting out the practices of a discipline students become the author of their own actions. This section explores active learning from a workplace skills perspective. Although there is commonality in the skills authors are trying to engender within their students, there are a variety of approaches that the reader may find useful.

Heard-Laureote and Field  share their approach to enhancing employability skills through a second-year module on the Politics and International Relations undergraduate programme. The practical assessments methods implemented encourage creative thinking, problem solving, strategic planning, team working and delegating skills.

Bringing the curriculum to life through collaborative partnership and authentic learning experiences is central to Johnston’s chapter. By embedding live collaborative briefs into the curriculum she discusses how this highlights real-world applications of knowledge and skills.

Pantrey-Mayer describes a Persona-based project where learners complete a brief in groups, developing problem solving, team working, resilience and many other professional skills.

The Diamond Nine active learning technique shared by Perkins helps students understand and engage with graduate attributes and articulate them to future employees. Pinnick explores using role play to help students explore ideas of professionalism preparing them for work-based settings.

In summary this section offers a number of different practical approaches for developing professional and discipline skills in students with guidance on how to transfer to other areas.


Barnett, R., & Coate, K. (2005). Engaging the higher curriculum in higher education. SRHE & Open University Press.

eLene4Life. (2020). Dynamic toolkit. eLene Network.

Miri, B., David, B. C., & Uri, Z. (2007). Purposely teaching for the promotion of higher-order thinking skills: A case of critical thinking. Research in Science Education 37, 353–369.

Nägele, C., Stalder, B.E. (2017). Competence and the need for transferable skills. In: M. Mulder, M. (Ed.) Competence-based vocational and professional education (pp. 739-753). Technical and Vocational Education and Training: Issues, Concerns and Prospects (Vol. 23.) Springer.

World Economic Forum. (2020). The future of jobs report 2020. World Economic Forum.

Zubizarreta, J. (2009) The learning portfolio: Reflective practice for improving student learning (2nd ed.). John Wiley and Sons.

About the authors

Richard works in the Centre for Higher Education Research and Practice (CHERP) and teaches on Ulster University’s First Steps to Teaching and their Masters of Education (HE). He is the lead for the Learning Landscapes project in which active learning is at its core. He has worked in HE for 15 years and prior to joining CHERP worked in the University’s Digital Learning department for 11 years. Richard is the chair of the ALT Active Learning Special Interest Group.

Tab Betts is a Lecturer in Higher Education Pedagogy at the University of Sussex. He is co-founder and institutional co-lead for the Active Learning Network (ALN). For many years, he has been promoting evidence-based approaches to active learning in higher education and the use of learning technologies to create inclusive blended learning environments and facilitate large-scale collaboration. He has won a number of awards, including  six awards for Outstanding or Innovative Teaching and a 2021 Global Academic Development Good Practice Award with the ALN.

Matt Parkman is an Instructional Designer who aims to create fun and interactive educational content, with the learner at heart. He found himself drawn to learning technology and instructional design to create content learners wanted to engage with, rather than feeling they had to.


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100 Ideas for Active Learning Copyright © 2022 by Richard Beggs; Tab Betts; and Matt Parkman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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