Charles Sturt University
Charles Sturt University

What is WPL

A unique learning experience

Workplace learning (WPL) is a unique learning experience that is part of the education for practice spectrum.

WPL is also known as work-integrated learning, practicums and professional practice, professional experience, internships, intra-mural and extra-mural placements, fieldwork and clinical placements.

WPL prepares students for:

  • Social, Cultural, political (authority, norms)
  • Relational (with other people, with objects and materials)
  • Discursive (the sayings, professional jargon)
  • Professional, ethical, consequential, moral
  • Contextual, time and space
  • Participatory, deliberate and autonomous
  • Uncertain, unpredictable (to a degree practice remains risky)
  • Rationale for the need of WPL
  • Best way to do consequential learning for practice

WPL is different learning to academic learning. Participation in WPL cannot be replicated in the classroom environment, because it provides:

  • exposure to diversity and complexity; and
  • learning by observing and doing.

WPL needs to be scaffolded and systematic. It needs to be developed and implemented in consideration with individual student needs as well as real world context needs. WPL requires careful preparation before WPL by using practice-based education strategies (e.g. professional learning and integrating isolated technical skills) and careful reflection after to turn experiences into scholarly insightful learning for future practice.

Simulation vs. WPL

It might be a futile exercise to find the exact line between real and virtual world context. Suffice to say here that there is a trajectory from distal to proximal practice-based strategies to prepare students for the world of work. WPL is at the very proximal end of this trajectory. At the distal end are lectures that relate theoretical knowledge to practical contexts. Simulations can vary from being located at the more distal to the more proximal ends of the trajectory depending on how well the key features of WPL are simulated. For more information check out the Practice-Based Education Model.

Key features of WPL

WPL involves a tripartite relationship between students, university staff and industry partners or real clients.

Students learn to appropriately apply theoretical knowledge in real practice situations and develop their practice capabilities (competencies performed in real world contexts).

Students experience their professional roles cognitively, emotionally and physically and in the context of organisational cultures.

Students learn that there are impacts and consequences of their roles and actions on others, including clients.

Students participate in assessment and evaluation of their WPL experiences (in preparation of career-long and life-wide learning)

Learning activities are relevant to students themselves, and address the content, learning outcomes and purpose of the course in preparing students for their professional roles.

Opportunities for preparation before, support during and debriefing after WPL experiences constitute a WPL program and are incorporated in the learning and teaching strategies of the course.

Working definitions

WPL is defined as

  • students' active participation and purposeful engagement with professional roles and responsibilities in real world professional environments,
  • supported by sound learning and teaching strategies and appropriate supervision,
  • that counts towards academic credit as part of a compulsory component of the course.

'Real world environments' means authentic, rather than simulated, work contexts where practice has a real social, relational and consequential nature. These contexts include not only real off-campus workplaces but also on-campus settings such as clinics, radio stations, studios and farms; apart from on- and off-campus workplaces, real world contexts include reverse classrooms (teacher education students teaching a real class via video link), e-health settings, community settings, university companies, students acting like a company to develop products typically with or for real clients outside of the structure of a workplace, or students working on farms.