Today, experience is no longer the exception: it is expectation.
Many Canadian post-secondary institutions place work-integrated learning (WIL) at the forefront of preparing students to enter the workforce. As more organizations begin to recognize the benefits of AIT, there is a growing need to advance our understanding and research in the field. This will help advance quality evidence-based TIL practice in the Canadian context.
Across Canada, a growing number of scholars are focusing their research on the practice of cooperative education and work-integrated learning. This body of work will become increasingly important, especially for academic institutions, as students and employers continue to prepare for the future beyond COVID-19.
We recently developed an ebook – The practice of cooperative and work-integrated learning in the Canadian context – which highlights existing research on the topic in order to inspire researchers and practitioners to apply research and evaluation to their own practice of AIT. This was a community effort and would not have been possible without the collaboration of the Cooperative Education and Workplace Learning Canada (CEWIL Canada) community. This community effort has resulted in a large number of quality submissions that reflect the growing field of WIL studies and research across a range of disciplines, provincial and territorial boundaries, and college and university sectors. As editors of this publication, we have learned a great deal about the AIT research landscape and the different types of AIT taking place.
The research covers topics ranging from the rise of AIT in Canada and how AIT can be understood with a focus on purpose, to distinct outcomes of AIT in various disciplines of studies. Through review of this work, several themes have emerged that could be applied to our current understanding of AIT and the importance it can play in a post-pandemic world.
Ensure that WIL is purposefully designed
Empirical research shows that AIT has the potential to have a significant impact on students, institutions, communities and industries when designed and implemented purposefully. When AIT opportunities are supported by purpose, we observe increased satisfaction in learning outcomes and experience gained and better engagement in future opportunities. This is especially true when there are clear links to academic learning, relevant work experience and the ability to contribute meaningfully (see: Chapters 3-6).
To help institutions develop better AIT experiences, in the e-book (specifically Chapter 2), the authors outline a goal- and outcome-oriented framework, which emphasizes the need to intentionally define the primary focus of the AIT experience as the basis for making decisions about an AIT program, including definition, design, delivery, and quality attributes. This framework can help educators operationalize Work-Integrated Learning Quality Framework, AAA★, which was previously developed at the University of Waterloo and subsequently adopted by CEWIL Canada as a way to focus the design and evaluation of AIT programs on existing research and evidence. It is a tool that can help establish and develop processes leading to quality and sustainable WIL experiences. When implemented, this helps improve the experience for students, employers, and educators, leading to better outcomes across all groups. It provides students, institutions and employers with the reasons behind the work and aims to help them set goals for AIT.
The opportunity offered by the switch to the Internet
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused huge changes in the workplace and workplace relationships. Disruptions to the way we traditionally approached work included everything from the shift to online work and the growth of remote/hybrid work environments to growing reliance on technology (see Chapter 9).
Just as our perspectives on how we work have changed, perspectives on how students can contribute to the workplace have continued to evolve. Students demonstrated adaptability and innovation through their WIL experiences. This resilience positions them well to support organizations as they redefine the future workplace.
WIL offers organizations the opportunity to connect with these students early. It can help organizations innovate and prepare for an unknown future.
The importance of partnership
In Canada, all levels of government increasingly support the expansion of WIL in post-secondary institutions. We have seen an unprecedented investment of federal funding in the Canadian AIT ecosystem, especially during the pandemic.
In the e-book (specifically Chapters 6-8), the authors explored community-engaged learning (CEL) and the importance of faculty support for the successful implementation of a WIL program with a significant impact. Whether within communities or with students, institutions and employers, partnerships are crucial to providing opportunities that benefit all participants. When we approach AIT relationships from a partnership perspective rather than a transactional one, we see an increase in engagement and open opportunities for innovation in AIT opportunities.
Partnerships between institutions will also be essential in establishing and maintaining standards for AIT. These partnerships can be supported by organizations like CEWIL Canada, which help connect institutions, employers, and researchers across Canada and establish standards of practice related to WIL. CEWIL’s national database brings together more than 50 member post-secondary institutions, providing a central location to create and share resources and research.
Next steps for AIT
There is a lot of activity and excitement around AIT in Canada and a great opportunity for global leadership based on long experience in this field. As the trends predicted for the future of work unfold, it will be important to consider how WIL programs must evolve to continue to meet the needs of students, the community, and the institution. industry. A key component of its successful growth will be the accompanying research to examine and understand its impacts for all stakeholders: students, employers/community organizations, educational institutions and governments.