Workplace Learning: What is it?

What is Workplace Learning?

Workplace learning (WPL) also known as work-integrated learning (WIL), refers to a set of learning and teaching strategies that enable students to experience their future professional roles and responsibilities in real workplaces with suitable supervision.

Different occupations and professions use other terms for WPL such as practicum, internship, fieldwork, professional experience and clinical placement.

University cannot educate students for their future work alone and you are not expected to do it alone either. Educating the future workforce relies on good university-industry partnerships. WPL is an inherently relational, interdependent activity between university and industry.

Good learning experiences include:

  • Supervisors ensuring that students understand what is expected of them
  • Students practising their future professional roles
  • Students being supported by their supervisor to take on more and more responsibilities
  • Students reflecting with their supervisor on their actions and understanding that these have consequences

What shapes WPL?

WPL is shaped by many influences including workplace demands, learning goals of university courses, requirements of professional bodies and governments who want universities to contribute to economic, environmental and social wellbeing.  Last but not least WPL is shaped by workplace supervisors and students. Consider what you need to tell the university about your workplace to determine your workplace’s suitability to host students.

Who needs to be involved in Workplace Learning?

WPL is a relational activity that includes the industry, students and the university. If all three groups work well together and have a shared understanding of their roles and responsibilities, WPL is a rewarding and productive experience for all.

Just remember, nobody works on their own. Working with others including your team, your manager, your clients and other practitioners is an important part of your work role. This also applies to WPL. Students’ learning is limited when they learn alone in a workplace. One purpose of WPL is for students to learn to work collaboratively and in teams. As a workplace supervisor you should not need to supervise students entirely on your own. There are many others that students can learn from and with during workplace placements apart from yourself. These include:

Who needs to be involved in WPL

There are also many different ways that students learn on workplace placements. These include learning by:

  • Observing tasks and workplace culture
  • Communicating
  • Doing
  • Saying, asking questions
  • Relating, making connections between knowing and doing
  • Reflecting, alone and with others
  • Assessing, students assessing themselves, the work situation and being assessed

Together these strategies help students develop a better understanding of what practice is all about. Practice is not only about discipline specific knowledge and technical skill competence. Practice is also about applying theoretical knowledge and technical skills appropriately in real-work contexts. Part of what students are learning is about enacting a professional role which means learning to cope to work under pressure, dealing with feedback, asking questions and being culturally appropriate.

Just like students learn from and with others, student supervisors can share student supervision with others, including:
Colleagues in your team/department
Academics in university

Who is responsible for what?

Expectations and responsibilities of workplace supervisors can vary enormously. This depends not only on specific occupations but also on the experiences and expertise of each workplace supervisor. As a workplace supervisor you are responsible for inducting and welcoming students to your workplace, offering suitable learning experiences for students and supporting their learning. But remember, ultimately, students are responsible for their own learning. Your responsibility is facilitation, mentoring and support.


Start by completing the table below for yourself before you speak with the university about suitable experiences you can offer students. After your discussion with the university you can revise and finalise this table below.

Table 1: Tasks, skills and capabilities that your workplace can offer students

Suitable tasks and projects for studentsSkills and capabilities requiredSkills and capabilities to be learnt