Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Do Postsecondary Internships Address the Four Learning Modes of Experiential Learning Theory? an Exploration through Document Analysis

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Do Postsecondary Internships Address the Four Learning Modes of Experiential Learning Theory? an Exploration through Document Analysis

Article excerpt

Introduction

The importance of integrating students' classroom learning with real-world practical experience has been recognized as a vital component of student engagement and development in higher education (Kuh, 2008). Postsecondary institutions have responded by incorporating various forms of work-integrated learning opportunities including internships, practica, cooperative education, placements, and apprenticeships. Currently, there are over 580,000 full-time students enrolled in postsecondary education in Ontario (Hicks, Weingarten, Jonker, & Liu, 2013; Weingarten, Hicks, Jonker, & Liu, 2013). Recent research conducted by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario on the interest in and participation of Ontario postsecondary students in work-integrated learning opportunities indicated that 47.6% of students in direct-entry postsecondary programs will have completed a work-integrated learning experience by the time of graduation (Sattler & Peters, 2013). This does not take into account the vast number of work-integrated learning opportunities offered by second-entry and graduate programs.

Student internships, the focus of this study, are an increasingly common experience for postsecondary students (Hergert, 2009). They have been recognized as an effective way to bridge classroom learning with professional practice (Baird, 1996; Paris & Adams, 1994) and have been referred to as an integral aspect of educational and professional development (Jowdy, McDonald, & Spence, 2004; Schmutte, 1986). Although numerous authors have provided definitions of what an "internship" may constitute relative to institutional practice (Moore, 2010), study parameters (Alpert, Heaney, & Kuhn, 2009; Gault, Leach, & Duey, 2010), or a global typology of work-integrated learning (Sattler, 2011), no standard definition of "internship" exists. There is however, consensus among all the definitions proposed in the extant literature that internships are meant to be educational and should provide structured, meaningful, and career-relevant experiences for students. Despite these points of consistency, discrepancies exist regarding the suggested time commitments (e.g., full time or part time, duration of internship), compensation (e.g., paid or unpaid), and the specific academic requirements of students who engage in internships (e.g., timing of internship in academic program, opportunity for course credit). In addition to the different definitions of internship, it is notable that they are not always clearly distinguished from other work-integrated learning opportunities, such as cooperative education, apprenticeships, placements, and practica.

Although the definition of internship remains unclear, they are viewed as beneficial for all parties-the student, institution, and employer-as they are believed to provide hands-on practical experience (Baird, 1996; Kuh, 2008; Paris & Adams, 1994), solidify knowledge learned in the classroom (Sattler, 2011; Schmutte, 1986), impart career exploration and preparation (Gault et al., 2010; Sattler, 2011), enhance an individual's understanding of personal characteristics (Tovey, 2001), build stronger resumes (Coco, 2000; Divine, Linrud, Miller, & Wilson, 2007), and introduce up-to-date knowledge and new ideas within organizations (Knemeyer & Murphy, 2002; Sattler, 2011; Thiel & Hartley, 1997). Despite these reported benefits, however, numerous challenges associated with internships have been cited, including effective transfer of student learning from educators to practitioners (Ciofalo, 1992; Kolb, 1984; Tovey, 2001), administrative challenges (Sattler, 2011), insufficient funding (Sattler, 2011; Schmutte, 1986), legal considerations (Moorman, 2004), student involvement in meaningless tasks, and lack of stakeholder interest (Schmutte, 1986).

Of greatest importance, challenges exist in ensuring that internships are educational for students. It is far too easy to assume that all experiences are educational when in fact this is far from the truth (Moore, 2010). …

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