Work-integrated learning (WIL) initiatives are increasingly being incorporated into university curricula, as part of a broader undertaking to prepare students for the workplace.
But does WIL make students more work-ready or employable?
There has been much anecdotal speculation, with little direct evidence until now. An OLT funded project recently released their findings in a report entitled “The Impact of Work-integrated Learning on Student Work-Readiness” (Smith, Ferns & Russell, 2014). The report provides some evidence that WIL does in fact make a difference.
The largest study of its kind, involving Macquarie University and 12 other Australian universities, set out to explore the impact of placement and simulation activities on student work-readiness. Placements have historically been perceived as the ‘gold standard’ of WIL but, more recently, alternate models such as simulations are thought to have just as much to offer in terms of achieving particular learning outcomes.
Research findings confirm that both WIL placements and simulated activities do have a significant and positive impact on student work-readiness and contribute to employability capabilities, specifically on: professional practice and standards; integration of knowledge and practice; informed decision making in context; collaboration; life-long learning and generic work-readiness. However, the impact of placement goes beyond that of simulation.
The report also identifies five elements of WIL placement experiences which are fundamental to the achievement of quality student outcomes. These are:
- Authenticity of the placement or WIL activity
- Preparation and induction processes for students and hosts
- Facilitated debriefing sessions
- Access to and quality of supervision
- Alignment of WIL activities and assessment
The quality of a WIL placement experience is thus more important in determining successful learning outcomes than its mere presence or absence. This study has important implications for the design and delivery of quality WIL initiatives such as the Professional and Community Engagement (PACE) program a Macquarie University.