Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) is a well-theorized pedagogical practice that facilitates students’ learning through connecting or integrating experiences across academic and workplace contexts (Billett, 2009). Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario’s 2016 Practical Guide for Work-Integrated Learning offers a helpful introduction and resources for mentors.

[Also see our Work-Integrated Learning Resource Page!]

Various versions of WIL are in place in post-secondary educational contexts in Canada, Australia, South Africa, the U.K., and Europe, and WIL functions as an umbrella category for some types of experiential learning common in the U.S. and other contexts. Examples of this learning-practice integration include work placements, work-terms, internships, practica, cooperative education (co-op), fieldwork, work-related projects/competitions, service learning, entrepreneurships, student-led enterprises, applied projects, simulations (including virtual WIL), etc. (International Journal of Work-Integrated Learning; see Figure 1 below, from HEQCO 2016, 34).

Universities support WIL pedagogy in ways that are similar to support for service learning in US-based universities; for example, Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, provides support to staff with: (a) designing WIL learning activities and assessment items; (b) managing some of the processes associated with internships; (c) student preparation workshops and online modules; (d) a resource library; and by (e) facilitating a community of practice. In another example, at the University of Wollongong, the Careers Central office offers a variety of credit-bearing courses and programs in career-readiness tailored to different student populations or work contexts. Despite the wide variety of different WIL models, many are grounded in a focus on intention and integration–intentional approaches to blending workplace and curricular learning, and the integration of theory and practice (Sachs, Rowe, and Wilson 2016, 10).

Forms of WIL (HEQCO 2016, 34; based on O’Shea 2014)

Elements of WIL

Sattler (2011) identified three approaches or models for WIL: the first is what she terms systematic training, in which the workplace is “the central piece of the learning” (such as an apprenticeship); the second is structured work experience, in which students are familiarized with the world of work within a postsecondary education program (e.g., field experience, professional practice, co-op, internship); and the third is institutional partnerships, which refer to “education activities [designed] to achieve industry or community goals” (e.g., service learning) (Sattler 2011, 29; HEQCO 2016, 6). 

Dimensions of WIL (Ontario 2010, 6)

Cooper, Orwell, and Bowden (2010) developed the outer nodes on this Dimensions of WIL wheel (see above), highlighting dimensions that help with the planning and success of WIL. To these dimensions, Cantalini-Williams (2015) added the “CANWILL” framework for developing effective work-integrated learning experiences: CANWILL (curriculum, assessment, networking, workplace, integration, learning, and logistics) focuses on the delivery of WIL experiences. 

WIL and Learning Theories

Researchers have identified several theories of student learning that help explain the benefit of WIL and that also provide a framework for assessing its learning outcomes. Summarized by Sattler (2011) and Keating (2006), these include situated learning theory, action theory and boundary crossing, pedagogy of the workplace, and critical education theory. Additional theories include action learning, transformational learning theory, and the “Turning Experience into Learning Framework” (Boud, Keogh, and Walker 1985). Finally, Ontario uses Kolb’s modes of experiential learning. 

WIL and Writing

Based on a key-word search of articles published in the International Journal of Work-Integrated Learning (until 2016 titled Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education), I found that writing intersects with WIL in a couple of key ways. First, reflection is often used as a tool for students to process learning; while students can use different modes for reflection, reflective writing is one important mode (see Edgar, Francis-Coad, and Connaughton 2013, who examine whether reflective writing is relevant for professional practice). In addition, writing is identified as a key competency in studies of employer expectations (e.g., Hodges and Burchell 2003). Finally, case study articles of an institution’s WIL that focus on student learning outcomes will often include written communication as an outcome (e.g., Alanson and Robles 2016). 

Opportunities for Future Research

As an institutional practice, WIL provides an established framework grounded in learning theory to support students’ learning in and through workplace settings. The WIL scholarship has not drawn from studies of workplace writing or writing knowledge transfer that have emerged from writing studies contexts, although of course the writing studies field has focused on internships and other workplace writing contexts (e.g. Anson and Forsberg 1990; Baird and Dilger 2017). However, case study assessments of WIL initiatives or studies of employer expectations that focus specifically on writing may provide important insights into how writing is both a tool for learning in – and a competency of – WIL.


Works Cited

  • Alanson, Erik R, and Richard A Robles. 2016. “Using Electronic Portfolios to Explore Essential Student Learning Outcomes in a Professional Development Course.” Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education 17, no. 4: 387–97.
  • Anson, Chris M., and L. Lee Forsberg. 1990. “Moving Beyond the Academic Community: Transitional Stages in Professional Writing.” Written Communication 7, no. 2: 200–231.
  • Baird, Neil, and Bradley Dilger. 2017. “How Students Perceive Transitions: Dispositions And Transfer In Internships.” College Composition and Communication 68, no 4: 684-712
  • Billett, Stephen. 2009. “Realising the Educational Worth of Integrating Work Experiences in Higher Education.” Studies in Higher Education 827-843.
  • Boud, D., Keogh, R., & Walker, D. (1985). Reflection: Turning Learning into Experience. New York: Routledge.
  • Cantalini-Williams, M. 2015. “Teacher Candidates’ Experiences in Non-traditional Practicum Placements: Developing Dimensions for Innovative Work-integrated Learning Models.” In The Complexity of Hiring, Supporting, and Retaining New Teachers Across Canada, by N Maynes and B E Hatt, Canadian Association.
  • Cooper, Lesley, Janice Orrell, and Margaret Bowden. 2010. Work Integrated Learning: A Guide to Effective Practice. London: Routledge.
  • Edgar, Susan, Jaqueline Francis-Coad, Joanne Connaughton. 2013. “Undergraduate Reflective Journaling in Work Integrated Learning: Is it Relevant to Professional Practice?”  Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education 14 no. 3: 147-156.
  • Hodges, Dave, and Noel Burchell. 2003. “Business Graduate Competencies: Employers’ Views on Importance and Performance.” Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education 16–22.
  • Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (“HEQCO”). 2016. A Practical Guide for Work-Integrated Learning: Effective Practices to Enhance the Educational Quality of Structured Work Experiences Offered through Colleges and Universities. Ontario: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.
  • Keating, S. 2006. Learning in the workplace: a literature review. Victoria University. Retrieved from 
  • Murdoch University. “Work Integrated Learning.” Accessed June 27, 2019.
  • O’Shea, Annissa. 2014. “Models of WIL.” In Work integrated learning in the Curriculum. Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australia guide, by Sonia Ferris, 7-14. Australia Collaboration Education Network Ltd.
  • Sachs, Judyth, Anna Rowe, and Michael Wilson. 2016. “2016 Good Practice Report–Work Integrated Learning.” Australian Government Department of Education and Training. Accessed July 23, 2019.
  • Sattler, Peggy. 2011. Work-Integrated Learning in Ontario’s Postsecondary Sector. Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.
  • University of Wollongong. “Work Integrated Subjects.” Accessed July 23, 2019.


Julia Bleakney is director of The Writing Center in the Center for Writing Excellence and assistant professor of English at Elon University. She is co-leading the 2019-2021 research seminar on Writing Beyond the University: Fostering Writers’ Lifelong Learning and Agency.

How to cite this post:

Bleakney, Julia. 2019, September 13. What is Work-Integrated Learning? [Blog Post]. Retrieved from