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What do we mean by “transferable skills”? A literature review of how the concept is conceptualized in undergraduate health sciences education

Kristoffer Brix Olesen (Centre for Health Sciences Education, Aarhus University, Aarhus C, Denmark)
Mette Krogh Christensen (Centre for Health Sciences Education, Aarhus University, Aarhus C, Denmark)
Lotte Dyhrberg O'Neill (SDU Centre for Teaching and Learning, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark)

Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning

ISSN: 2042-3896

Article publication date: 15 September 2020

Issue publication date: 17 June 2021

1022

Abstract

Purpose

Due to rapid changes in the future labor market, transferable skills are recognized as a vital learning outcome for students in undergraduate higher education. However, ambiguities surrounding the concept and content of transferable skills hamper the actual teaching and learning of transferable skills. Consequently, there is a great need for an overview of the literature on transferable skills to qualify and develop the approaches to transferrable skills in higher education. This study aims to outline a typology of how transferable skills are conceptualized in health sciences education, that is, medicine, nursing and related health professionals’ education.

Design/methodology/approach

The study was a mixed studies literature review, which included quantitative, qualitative and mixed-methods studies. A seven-stage sequential exploratory synthesis of the included studies was conducted.

Findings

This review showed that transferable skills reflected three main conceptualizations: Program Requirements, Employability and Holistic Development. Overall, the global methodological quality of the empirical studies of interventions to further transferable skills development in health science education was weak.

Research limitations/implications

This study aids clear conceptualization in future empirical studies.

Practical implications

By distinguishing between three main conceptualizations of transferable skills, this study's typology supports alignment in transferable skills curricula because conceptually sound learning objectives provide teachers and students in health sciences education with a clear purpose and direct educators' choice of relevant teaching and assessment strategies.

Originality/value

This review – the first of its kind – contributes to conceptualization of transferable skills as the basis for curriculum development and research.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Kristoffer Brix Olesen and Mette Krogh Christensen contributed equally to this work.Declarations of interest: This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Citation

Olesen, K.B., Christensen, M.K. and O'Neill, L.D. (2021), "What do we mean by “transferable skills”? A literature review of how the concept is conceptualized in undergraduate health sciences education", Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 616-634. https://doi.org/10.1108/HESWBL-01-2020-0012

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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