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Internship and Industrial Placement

Please cite as follows: Chan, CKY (2015). "Internship and Industrial Placement", Engineering Education Enhancement and Research Asia (E3R Asia).

Educational Theories behind Internship and Industrial Placement

Internship, as a form of experiential learning emphasizes on the role of experience in the learning process (Kolb & Kolb, 2005). In Fenwick’s (2000) review on different perspectives of learning, the constructivist view and the situative view were introduced as two perspectives which address experiential learning.

The constructivist view sees an individual as the main actor in the process of knowledge construction through reflection and Kolb’s experiential learning theory (1984) was a model that based on this perspective (see section on Educational Theories behind Experiential Learning). This model is often mentioned in the experiential learning literature to point out the importance of reflection in learning. In fact, the importance of reflection in learning is also emphasized in Mezirow’s (1997) transformative learning theory, which suggested that an individual gain new understanding of his or her purpose and values through critical reflection (Cranton & King, 2003). Internship and industrial placement can be seen as workplace learning experience which provides opportunities for students to feel, observe, reflect and act using prior knowledge and new experience and understanding.

On the other hand, the situative view of learning considers learning as a process rooted in a situation which an individual participates in. Lave & Wenger (1991) earned significant recognition for their proposed model of situated learning, which introduced the concept of ‘community of practice’ and ‘legitimate peripheral participation’. They proposed that learning involves active participation and engagement in a ‘community of practice’, which include the culture, activities and language of a community. Learning is considered as a form of social practice, which takes place during one’s participation as a member of a certain professional community. Internship and industrial placement can be seen as workplace learning experience which provides opportunities for students to learn through participation in a community of practice, facilitating their transition from school to work.

Another concept related to Lave & Wenger’s (1991) model is Vygotsky’s (1978) concept of zone of proximal development, which proposed that learning occur through social interaction between novice and experts, such that the less skillful and experienced individual will learn under the guidance of and in collaboration with more skillful and experienced individual. This process is known as scaffolding. In this case, internship and industrial placement provide students with opportunities to learn from their supervisor and fellow colleagues, who have more experience in the community of practice.

Michael Eraut (2004) is another academic well-known for his work on workplace learning. Although his projects does not focus on student learning during placement, his research on the learning of adults working in professions such as engineering, nursing and accounting during their first year of employment and his model of informal learning in the workplace offers valuable insight contributing to our understanding of what is being learnt and how are things learnt at the workplace. He made an attempt to categorize what is learnt at the workplace (as presented in Figure 1 below) and reported four main types of work activity that leads to learning: 1) participation in group activities, 2) working with others, 3) tackling challenging tasks with support, and 4) working with clients (Eraut, 2004).

Task performance

  • Speed and fluency
  • Complexity of tasks and problems
  • Range of skills required
  • Communication with a wide range of people
  • Collaborative work

Role performance

  • Prioritisation
  • Range of responsibility
  • Supporting other people’s learning
  • Leadership
  • Accountability
  • Supervisory role
  • Delegation
  • Handling ethical issues
  • Coping with unexpected problems
  • Crisis management
  • Keeping up-to-date

Awareness and understanding

  • Other people: colleague, customers, managers, etc.
  • Contexts and situations
  • One’s own organization
  • Problems and risks
  • Priorities and strategic issues
  • Value issues

Academic Knowledge and Skills

  • Use of evidence and argument
  • Accessing formal knowledge
  • Research-based practice
  • Theoretical thinking
  • Knowing what you might need to know
  • Using knowledge resources (human, paper-based, electronic)
  • Learning how to use relevant theory (in a range of practical situations)

Personal Development

  • Self-evaluation
  • Self-management
  • Handling emotions
  • Building and sustaining relationships
  • Disposition to attend to other perspectives
  • Disposition to consult and work with others
  • Disposition to learn and improve one’s practice
  • Accessing relevant knowledge and expertise
  • Ability to learn from experience


  • Collaborative work
  • Facilitating social relations
  • Joint planning and problem solving
  • Ability to engage in and promote mutual learning

Decision Making and Problem Solving

  • When to seek expert help
  • Dealing with complexity
  • Group decision making
  • Problem analysis
  • Generating, formulating and evaluating options
  • Managing the process within an appropriate timescale
  • Decision making under pressured conditions


  • Quality of performance, output and outcomes
  • Priorities
  • Value issues
  • Levels of risk

Figure 1. What is being learnt at the workplace? (Taken from Eraut, 2004)


  • Cranton, P., & King, K. P. (2003). Transformative learning as a professional development goal. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 98, 31-37.
  • Eraut, M. (2004). Informal learning in the workplace. Studies in Continuing Education, 26(2), 247-273.
  • Fenwick, T. J. (2000). Expanding conceptions of experiential learning: A review of the five contemporary perspectives on cognition. Adult Education Quarterly, 50(4), 243-272.
  • Kolb, A. Y., & Kolb, D. A. (2005). Learning styles and learning spaces: Enhancing experiential learning in higher education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 4(2), 193-212.
  • Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
  • Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
  • Mezirow, J. (1997). Transformative learning: Theory to practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 74, 5-12.
  • Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological process. Cambridge, Mass.: Havard University Press.