Work Integrated Learning for Life: Encouraging Agentic Engagement

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Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 34: Higher Education on the Edge

July, 2011, 394 pages
Published by
K. Krause, M. Buckridge, C. Grimmer, & S. Purbrick-Illek
0 908557 85 X

In a rapidly changing world it is critical that we reconsider the role universities could or should play in helping students prepare for the complexities of the 21st century. Efforts to respond to economic imperatives such as the skills shortage have seen a rush to embed work integrated and career development learning in the curriculum as well as a strengthening of the discourse that the university’s role is primarily to produce ‘oven ready and self basting’ graduates (Atkins, 1999). To enable students to thrive, not just survive socially and economically in a radically unknowable world, where knowledge becomes obsolete, we need to be ready to develop new futures (Barnett, 2004).

This paper considers the concept of ‘work’, the role it plays in our lives, and our aspirations to build sustainable, socially connected communities. We revisit the assumptions underlying the employability argument (Atkins, 1999) in the light of changing notions of work (Hagel, Seely Brown & Davison, 2010), and the need for higher education to contribute to a better and more sustainable society (Pocock, 2003). Specifically we present initiatives developed from work integrated learning (WIL) programs in the United Kingdom and Australia, where WIL programs are framed within the broader context of real world and life-wide curriculum (Jackson, 2010), and where transferable skills and elements of work- related learning programs prepare students for less certain job futures. The theoretical and operational implicationsof shaping real world and life-wide curriculum will be investigated in more depth in the next phase of this research.

Keywords: work integrated learning, curriculum reform, social connectedness