Full paper Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Designing work integrated learning curricula to optimise integrative learning and student employability outcomes (#67)

Sonia J Ferns 1 , Leoni Russell , Calvin Smith
  1. Curtin Teaching and Learning, Curtin University, Bentley, WA, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)


Preparing graduates for an unpredicatable and complex workplace in the future is challenging the traditional content-driven paradigm of a university education. Work integrated learning (WIL) is internationally recognised as a strategy for nurturing employability capabilities and ensuring students gain proficiencies that equip them with professional skills necessary for a rewarding and challenging career. Curriculum design informed by industry practitioners enabling a personalised approach in variable contexts is essential for experiential learning.

Research/issue under consideration

Affording student experiences that develop conceptual and analytical abilities and facilitate the application of discipline knowledge in complex, multifarious situations reflective of the workplace requires a sophisticated curriculum design. This research emerged from the Office of Learning and Teaching funded project: Assessing the impact of work integrated learning on student work-readiness. .


Five studies were conducted to capture both qualitative and quantitative data from key stakeholders including employers, graduates and current students which together provided a rigorous evidence-base for identifying the components of a quality WIL curriculum that optimises graduate capabilities.
Results and implications

The findings from this research identified the key curriculum dimensions that contribute to quality learning outcomes for students thereby enhancing the acquisition of employability capabilities. A focus on integration of theory and practice in learning outcomes and assessment, student preparation and debriefing activities, active supervision with constructive feedback, the authenticity of the learning experience, and robust partnerships with host organisations have emerged as essential elements of an experiential curriculum that not only produces employability capabilities but also promotes adaptable, innovative and entrepreneurial graduates. This research informs curriculum design, assessment methodologies and partnership models.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

As noted in the abstract, this paper will draw from recent national research that identified components of quality WIL curriculum that impacts employability capabilities of graduates. The importance of integrative learning as a key goal of WIL (not just the experience of work) will be explored as a significant contributor to developing adaptable and innovative professionals who can learn and thrive in complex environments. The paper will discuss the dimensions of employability that were identified in the study:
• Professional practice and standards
• Integration of theory and practice
• Lifelong learning
• Collaboration
• Informed decision-making
• Commencement-readiness
Furthermore, the skills and knowledge that students need to develop in different contexts to better prepare them for complex and unpredictable working environments will be explored.
The focus of the paper directly aligns to the conference theme Learning for life and work in a complex world as the research findings identified curriculum elements integral to preparing graduates for a competitive and uncertain future. While several of the sub-themes are addressed in this research Educating graduates to be responsive and adaptable professionals will be explicitly addressed in the article.

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