Work-integrated learning: Maximizing benefits and minimizing challenges

Work-Integrated Learning: Maximizing Benefits and Minimizing Challenges

Workintegrated learning (WIL) is a pedagogical approach designed for students to learn through the integration of experience in educational and practice settings (Billet, 2009). WIL approaches provide learners with valuable opportunities to apply theory to practice (Cooper et al., 2010). Over the last decade, WIL programs have become increasingly influential in enhancing teaching and learning in preparation for the workplace (Kennedy et al., 2015).  

Two significant investigations have been undertaken by the Business and Higher Education Roundtable (BHER) and the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), respectively, to advance our understanding of WIL and some of the benefits and challenges experienced within WIL programs across Canada (BHER, 2016; HEQCO, 2016, 2018). The following is a summary of the investigations main findings. 

What are some of the benefits of WIL?

  • Learners make meaningful connections between classroom learning and authentic workplace practices, which strengthens their sense of learning purpose and retention of information. 
  • When WIL objectives are aligned with authentic assessments and enable meaningful reflection, learners often become more engaged and experience greater success. This is supported by research into social cognition, self-efficacy, and the importance of human agency in the learning process (e.g., Bandura, 1991). 
  • Students gain experience dealing with real-world challenges, which helps to develop their professional identity, determine industry suitability, and build workplace skills and strategies. 
  • Instructors benefit from remaining up to date with current industry practices, which enables them to become less of a sage on the stage and more of a guide on the side.” 
  • Employers gain access to high-quality students, innovative ideas, and a range of theoretical and practical resources, which assists companies in developing and maintaining best practices. 
  • Participation in a WIL program enhances workplace collaboration and readiness, which improves the ability to recruit skilled workers and reduces onboarding costs. 
  • Communities gain from developing meaningful connections across educational institutions, governmental organizations, and private companies through collaborative WIL initiatives designed to create and maintain a knowledgeable, skilled, flexible, and ethical workforce.  
  • Educational institutions and programs benefit from building and maintaining collaborative relationships with industry, government, and community partners, which enables the creation of inclusive and impactful learning experiences that will contribute to student success.

What are some of the challenges of WIL?

  • Learners may experience significant barriers to effective workplaceintegrated learning based on their gender, race, sexuality, or other non-relevant characteristics, further complicating the need for equality, diversity, and inclusion across all organizations and companies. 
  • People with disabilities may struggle to find appropriate work placements, mirroring the pressing need to improve accessibility in the workplace and provide equal opportunities for all.
  • Low-income students may struggle to undertake unpaid work placements or feel significant pressure to continue paid work not beneficial to their education or career development.
  • Employers may struggle to devote enough resources to effectively administer and supervise WIL initiatives and meaningfully collaborate with other WIL stakeholders to ensure outcomes are achieved and students can benefit as much as possible from their workplace experience. 

How can you maximize benefits and minimize challenges?

  • Seek opportunities to engage and collaborate with multiple internal and external stakeholders in coordinating WIL placements with the placement office.  
  • The program advisory council should share EDI research, fundamental principles, and best practices at the college and work with WIL partners to promote equity, diversity, inclusivity, and accessibility.
  • Investigate all potential funding opportunities available for employers and participants (e.g., STEP program, Young Canada Works, etc.) and work to provide a range of paid and unpaid placement opportunities that help prepare students for success in their chosen field of work.  
  • According to HEQCO (2018), there are several supports that educational institutions can provide to ensure all participants benefit from their WIL experiences, including the following: 
    • Having a dedicated WIL advisor 
    • One-on-one career advising 
    • Encouraging and assisting international students to apply for work visas 
    • Working with international students to prepare them for job interviews 
    • Having an accessibility advisor and/or a workplace transition consultant 
    • Working one-on-one with students to ensure the WIL experience is successful 
    • Ensuring that students in WIL are fully aware of the resources available to them 
  • For employers participating in WIL programs, take full advantage of current resources available and those provided by the educational institution to review best practices in workplace training and onboarding to minimize future challenges and costs. 
  • Accessibility experts also bring their experiences and skillsets to any WIL initiative. For example, Accessibility Services at Lethbridge College takes an individualized, learner-centred, and strength-based approach in which learners treated as the experts in identifying their strengths and minimizing barriers.
    • As Cayla Clemens (Accessibility Services coordinator at Lethbridge College) states, I have supervised students with disabilities through co-op learning experiences and have witnessed the many benefits that can occur when unique needs are taken into consideration. Students gain greater confidence in the workplace and develop meaningful collaborations that provide necessary references, all of which enhances motivation to pursue their passions!
  • Relationships build over time. Start with what your WIL partner is willing to support, then work to find ways to streamline the process. Work with the resources available at the institution (placement office, etc.). 

How do participants receive workplace compensation coverage?

  • Secondary school students who participate in approved WIL programs in Alberta are considered government employees. As such, they receive workers’ compensation coverage while completing their work-related experiences outside the classroom. 
  • Post-secondary students who participate in approved WIL programs in Alberta are also treated as employees of the government. As such, they receive workers’ compensation coverage as well.  
  • WIL initiatives must satisfy all government requirements, have a signed affiliation agreement in place, have approved and signed waiver forms, and complete all steps necessary to ensure workers’ compensation coverage is in place for any work placements in Alberta.
  • For participants who have work placements outside Alberta, coverage requirements in the relevant jurisdiction must be investigated by the work experience employer. WCB-Alberta must be consulted to determine if coverage will be extended to participants while out of province.
  • As Lethbridge College students, WIL program participants are provided accidental death and disability coverage while they are out of province. Participants are responsible for obtaining additional personal insurance coverage, if needed.  
  • For more information, contact Institutional Compliance at


About WIL in Canada 

BHER. (2016). Taking the Pulse of Work-integrated Learning in Canada: Full report. Report available for download from  

HEQCO. (2016, April 19). A Practical Guide for Work-integrated Learning: Effective Practices to Enhance the Educational Quality of Structured Work Experiences Offered Through Colleges and Universities. Report available for download from  

HEQCO. (2018, September 18). Barriers to work-integrated learning opportunities. Report available for download from     

Free WIL Course for postsecondary students 

Niagara College, Centre for Academic Excellence. (n.d.). Work Integrated Learning Open Module Initiative. A free course described as “31 open access, learner-centred modules to support WIL preparedness among post-secondary students.” Visit  

Workers’ Compensation Coverage in Alberta 

Workers’ Compensation Board – Alberta (WCB-Alberta). For links to relevant provincial legislation, visit  


Bandura, A. (1991). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Prentice-Hall 

Billett, S. (1996). Towards a model of workplace learning: The learning curriculum. Studies in Continuing Education, 18, 43-58. 

Cooper, L., Orrell, J., & Bowden, M. (2010). Work integrated learning: A guide to effective practice. Routledge. 

Kennedy, M., Billett, S., Gherardi, S., & Grealish, L. (2015). Practice-based learning in higher education: Jostling cultures. In M. Kennedy, S. Billett, S. Gherardi & L. Grealish (eds.), Practice-based learning in higher education: Jostling cultures (pp. 1-14). Springer.

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