Work Integrated Learning (WIL)

There are reasons for optimism about the future of work integrated learning. Social, economic, and historic forces are making cooperative education more relevant than ever including emphasis on university-industry-government cooperation, a fluid and demanding workplace, new technology, the need for continuous on-the-job learning, globalization, and demands for more accountability in the workplace.

Work-integrated learning refers to the process whereby students come to learn from experiences in educational and practice settings and integrate the contributions of those experiences in developing the understandings, procedures and dispositions required for effective professional practice. Work-integrated learning arrangements include the kinds of curriculum and pedagogic practices that can assist students to effectively integrate learning experiences in both educational and practice settings.
As a form of work integrated learning, cooperative education has existed in the United States for most of the 20th century, though for a number of reasons, its promise has not been fully realized. However, it is taking on new significance in an environment characterized by school-to-work transition and various forms of experiential learning initiatives.

I believe that renewing cooperative education lies in going beyond re-conceiving co-op as an educational strategy, pedagogy, model, methodology,  curriculum or providing short term economic fixes. The time is past due for cooperative education to develop and define its distinctive body of knowledge, investigate its unique phenomena and be recognized as a legitimate discipline worthy of its place among the many others. WIL needs to become permanently integrated in all post-secondary education curricula as a means to improve students’ generic skills and bridging the student/employer expectation gap. Generic skills development has been a key focus in curriculum changes in recent years but its resurgence has been promoted mainly by stakeholder views as well as research evidence that suggests generic skill upgrading as a bridge to the expectation gap.

The benefits of generic skills are not restricted to employer demand and better graduate employment prospects; they are also transferable—from classroom to the workplace and between workplaces. While technical knowledge becomes dated, generic skills rarely become obsolete and can be transferred into new careers. At its best, cooperative education can provide answers to improve economic output, graduates working lives,  lifelong learning abilities and can thus position itself to serve the experiential learning needs of students far into the 21st century.

In  higher education context, self-efficacy has been demonstrated to have a significant influence on student behaviour. Self-efficacy can affect a students’ academic persistence, choice of career opportunities, career competency, individual performance and satisfaction (Bandura, 1997; Chowdhury, Endres, & Lanis, 2002; Gist & Mitchell, 1992). For example, students with higher self-efficacy can better utilise cognitive strategies (Zimmerman, 1992) and can be better at solving conceptual problems (Bouffard-Bouchard, Parent, & Larivee, 1991). Many studies have demonstrated significant improvements in student self-efficacy through participation in WIL activities including improved attitudes and behaviours toward work readiness.

A post-secondary education is not a job training program nor should the WIL curriculum be dictated by economic or narrow workplace interests. However, I believe a good post secondary education must be responsive to the needs of students to become engaged and productive members of society. It must also look beyond immediate problems to prepare students to change and improve the status quo,  not merely to adapt to the world as they find it.

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