Does work-integrated learning actually make students work ready?

Dr Calvin Smith from Griffith University will present and discuss the results of a landmark project that assessed the impact of work-integrated learning on student work-readiness:

Monday 17 February
9.30-11.30am in E6A116
Details and registration

WiL - by NASA Goddard Photo and Video ready students are those who possess the basic skills and competencies needed to work within specific occupations. Specifically, work-ready students have “a combination of content knowledge and employability skills, such as communication, team work and problem solving, which enables effective professional practice”.[1]

Work-integrated learning (WIL) is thought to be one of the most effective ways of preparing students for the workplace. WIL activities range from those where students leave the university for a period time (a day, week or several months) to undertake various types of placement experiences (clinical placements, teacher practicums and internships). WIL activities can also take place on-campus, for example, simulations, project work, live case studies, role plays and other interactive activities with industry personnel. Historically, placements have been viewed as the ‘gold standard’ of WIL, however more recently it is thought that alternate activities such as simulations have just as much to offer in terms of achieving particular learning outcomes. It is not known which models are most effective for promoting different types of learning and preparing students for particular workplace contexts.

So how do we know when students are work-ready? There is a general consensus in the literature that undertaking a WIL activity, whether placement or non-placement, is not sufficient on its own to promote student learning and skill acquisition. Rather, such experiences need to be firmly embedded within the curriculum, and supported by learning activities such as reflective practice to help students make sense of their experience, and develop links between theory and practice. This perspective can be traced back to the philosophical writings of John Dewey. Supporting student learning in WIL can take up a considerable amount of academics time, and so it’s important to know that such preparation actually works, and whether placement activities are indeed significantly more beneficial to student learning, than non-placement ones. This is particularly pertinent in light of increasing student diversity, and competition between universities for placements.

A recent ALTC/OLT funded project, “Assessing the impact of work-integrated learning (WIL) on student work-readiness” has investigated some of these issues. The largest study of its kind, involving Macquarie University and 12 other Australian Universities, the project has shown a significant and positive impact of placement WIL on 6 dimensions of generic employment-readiness (professional practice and standards; integration of knowledge and practice; informed decision making in context; collaboration; life-long learning and generic work-readiness) when compared with (a) no placement and (b) simulation (only).  Findings show that the quality of the WIL placement experience is more important in determining outcomes than its mere presence or absence.

Theresa Winchester-Seeto and Anna Rowe

[1] Patrick et al. (2008), The WIL Report: A National Scoping Study. ALTC Final Report. Brisbane: QUT, p. iv.