What is Work-Integrated Learning?

Work Integrated Learning (WIL) is the term used to describe educational activities that incorporate academic learning and workplace practice. When WIL is embedded as an element of learning activities, it enables students to develop a combination of academic and practical knowledge and skills which better prepares them for the workplace.

The International Journal of Work-Integrated Learning defines WIL as “an educational approach that uses relevant work-based experiences to allow students to integrate theory with the meaningful practice of work as an intentional component of the curriculum. Defining elements of this educational approach require that students engage in authentic and meaningful work-related tasks, and must involve three stakeholders; the student, the university, and the workplace/community.

WIL is recognised internationally by academics, researchers and practitioners as a term that encompasses a wide range of approaches to incorporating the workplace into academic learning.

For example, Co-operative Education (Co-op) was developed as a pedagogy in 1906 by Associate Professor Herman Schneider of the University of Cincinnati (later President of the University). The Co-op pedagogy originally alternated a trimester of study with a trimester in the work force to build real world experiences with the concepts and tools being taught.

Co-op has a fairly narrow definition and sits as a (popular) sub-set of WIL pedagogies. Examples of other practices include off-campus workplace immersion activities such as work placements, internships, practicum and service learning, and on-campus activities such as work-related projects/competitions, entrepreneurships, student-led enterprise, etc.

When designing a WIL program each faculty or school is influenced primarily by the stakeholders they are engaging with. Stakeholders include local and central government, local business communities plus professional bodies such as Teaching, Nursing, Engineers and others, that require a period of practise in the workplace. Around these competing interests a pedagogy is crafted, drawing on the experience of the WIL research and practitioner community, that guides the WIL practitioner and ensures the program is appropriate for a teaching institution.

Engaging in WIL as a practitioner might be described as building employer relationships, coaching students as they undertake new experiences and ensuring the academic pedagogy behind the program is followed and remains fit-for-purpose in a changing world.