Transferring learning into professional practice should be one of the main goals of any training programme, thus dismantling the gap between the academic and work world (Correa, 2015). The analysis of elements affecting an efficient learning transfer has been, and still is, one of the more prominent research topic in the field of both, initial and continuous training (Grover, 2015; Van den Bossche & Segers, 2013). Most of these studies point to competency-based learning and training as one of the methodological options that facilitate learning transfer (Boahin & Hofman, 2014; Grossman & Salas, 2011). In this sense, competency-based learning has become one of the central axes in the reconfiguration of the European Higher Education Area and, specifically, of the Spanish Higher Education System (Chisvert, Palomares, & Soto, 2015).
Beyond the discussion about the competences that must be developed in higher education (Freire, Álvarez, & Montes, 2013; Gilbert, Balatti, Tunner, & Whitehouse, 2004) and the identification of factors affecting their development (Velasco, 2014), from a didactic approach, the study of competency-based learning in higher education has mainly focused on the strategies and activities that facilitate their development (Biggs, 2011) and on the way they are evaluated (Zlatkin-Troitschanskaia, Shavelson, & Kuhn, 2015).
In the specific case of teacher training, as pointed out by Rosales (2013), competency-based learning may be a way to promote professional development throughout teachers’ career, since it would be naïve to expect that pre-service teacher training would be enough to develop each and every competence that Spanish Universities’ curricula establish. In this sense, both Rodicio & Iglesias (2011) and Rosales (2013) state that the initial training should be directed to work on the competences increasingly demanded by the labour market.
Although there are several studies focusing on the importance of internships for professional competencies’ development, for the consolidation of learning (Kilgo, Sheets, & Pascarella, 2015; Tejada & Ruiz, 2013) and for the transition to working life (Helyer & Lee, 2014), in the case of initial teacher training, there is a lack of research that provides empirical evidence on the factors that lead to a better acquisition of competencies during in-school practices, internships or practicum, as well as the conditions assuring the quality of these training periods.
Thus, the aim of the study presented here is to identify factors promoting better competencies development during the in-school practices period within the Early Childhood Education and Primary Education bachelor’s degrees in Catalonia (Spain). The study focuses on the practicum organizational characteristics, the satisfaction expressed by students and the perceived impact on institutions and individuals involved in internships programmes.