Workplace-integrated-learning (WIL) is the umbrella term used to describe educational experiences that combine periods of in-class study with actual workplace experiences. While cooperative education falls under this broad rubric, it is interesting to note that the practice of learning in-situ has been around for at least a century. Conversely, the concept of workplace integrated learning is very much a twenty-first century phenomenon representative of an increasingly competitive and globalized information/knowledge economy premised on perpetual innovation. WIL is one solution to the problem of educating the next generation of productive workers so that they can “hit the ground running” and move the world forward in innovative and creative ways.
That said, the workplace is a different learning environment from the university. Where a university (or any formal educational setting) is student-centered and focused on facilitating student learning; a workplace is focused on its own strategic goals, stakeholders, and clients. Student learning is peripheral to the purpose of the organization. While it is assumed that any organization that employs a cooperative student has a commitment to the educational value of the experience for all parties, employers are not responsible for the student’s academic development.
Thus, the cooperative placement provides the raw materials with which a student can do the work of integrating and reflecting upon the relationship between theory and practice, as well as the more personal work associated with their development as burgeoning professionals.
Finally, in order for learning to occur in the workplace, the processes associated with learning (cognitive, emotional, affective, etc.) must be made conscious and accessible to the learner. This is the overriding purpose of this course: to create independent, autonomous and self-directed learning professionals.