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Virtual work-based learning (work-integrated learning): The ultimate guide to maximizing student outcomes

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December 6, 2023
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Virtual learning in higher education isn't a new concept. It has been steadily weaving its way into the fabric of academic systems for years. Today, nearly half of all college students take online courses as part of their degree programs.

As technology advances and new platforms emerge, many higher education institutions are working to incorporate more virtual learning opportunities, like virtual work-based learning (VWBL) experiences, into their existing curriculum.

By leveraging these digital tools, institutions can significantly enhance and expand their educational experiences, boosting student outcomes.

In this article, we'll cover the main benefits of VWBL and how you can implement these programs into your curriculum.

Key takeaways

  • With virtual work-based learning, all students can access quality education regardless of background or location.
  • Virtual work-based learning is a comprehensive approach to education that aligns educational offerings with modern workplace skills.
  • In order to implement successful virtual work-based learning programs, it is necessary to define specific goals, identify suitable models, integrate technology effectively, and select the right industry partners.

Beyond the obvious: The untapped potential of virtual work-based learning

VWBL is not just an alternative learning method; it is a comprehensive approach that helps higher educational institutions align their offerings more closely with the employability skills needed in the modern world and the aspirations of its learners.

Here are just a few of the ways it's beneficial:

Every student, irrespective of background, gets an equal shot

One of the most compelling aspects of VWBL is its capacity to provide equitable access to quality learning experiences, regardless of a student's background or location. This is an important factor for many students, especially international students, who often face challenges with work visas. 

By enabling virtual and remote learning experiences, VWBL bridges the gap between classroom-centric education and real-world scenarios. This flexibility allows for a more tailored educational experience that is accessible to students regardless of their socioeconomic status. 

Real-world exposure is no longer a luxury

In the past, gaining real-world industry exposure often seemed like a luxury available only to a select few, typically those with established connections through friends, family, etc. VWBL dismantles this barrier, fostering robust connections between students and industries.

It has the capacity to connect students directly with industry leaders and real job roles. Through VWBL, students gain firsthand experience of the professional world. This practical exposure not only prepares students for the professional world but also increases their employability and career readiness

Courses can better mirror student aspirations

Today's students desire courses that prepare them with in-demand skills so they can better fit into the modern workforce. The trend is backed up by recent survey data: 81% of students feel that it's crucial for schools to offer real company-led projects, and 79% stress the importance of on-the-job learning experiences during their postsecondary education. 

The inclusion of authentic company-led projects in VWBL programs directly mirrors student aspirations for practical, hands-on learning. This alignment increases student engagement and ensures that the education they receive is closely tied to their career goals and the realities of the professional world they will soon enter. 

Graduates leave with more than just a degree

A critical advantage of VWBL is its focus on practical in-demand skill development, from interpersonal to hard skill development. Students who engage in VWBL programs graduate with a rich set of skills and experiences that go beyond academic knowledge. 

This practical expertise makes them industry-ready and significantly enhances their employability. In today's competitive job market, employers want graduates who can seamlessly transition into the workforce. VWBL-equipped students can do this right away, ready to contribute from the get-go.

Enhances engagement in remote settings

Engaging students is a significant hurdle, with 66% of educators citing it as their primary challenge. When you add a virtual environment, students often feel disconnected or isolated, which can make them further disengage from the material. 

WBL presents a robust solution to this issue, particularly in remote learning environments. Not only are students engaging in hands-on projects and industry-relevant tasks, but they are also collaborating and connecting with others, which motivates them to engage with course content. 

Your roadmap to a successful virtual work-based learning program

Creating a successful VWBL program requires intentional planning and a structured approach. While each institution's approach might vary depending on various administrative factors, there are a few common steps every institution takes when they want to implement VWBL programs. 

1. Define your institution's specific goals and identify outcomes and barriers

The journey towards a thriving VWBL program begins with a clear understanding of your institution's unique goals. Are you aiming to enhance student employability, bridge the gap between academia and industry, or focus on developing specific skills? 

Identifying these goals not only sets a clear direction but also helps in tailoring the VWBL program to meet your students' and institution's needs effectively.

Additionally, you'll want to conduct a thorough analysis to identify any barriers or challenges you’ll face with delivery—technological limitations, faculty training needs, engagement challenges, or curriculum integration challenges—so you can find ways to address them. 

2. Identify the right virtual work-based learning model for your institution

VWBL comes in various forms, from project-based collaborations to virtual internships. Select a model that aligns with your institution's goals and resources. 

Consider factors like the duration of programs, the intensity of industry engagement, and the level of student autonomy. This choice will significantly influence the structure and outcomes of your VWBL initiatives.

3. Explore delivery formats and emphasize technology integration

Consider various virtual delivery formats—online, mobile, hybrid, low/no-tech—to find the most suitable approach for your program. Ensure that the technology you choose supports these formats effectively, allowing seamless interaction and collaboration.

4. Select industry partners and provide real-world projects

The success of VWBL heavily relies on the quality and relevance of industry partnerships. Seek out partners who not only provide practical insights and real-world problems for students to tackle but also share a commitment to educational goals. 

Innovative platforms like Riipen make it easy for educators and industry partners to connect and collaborate on projects. Whether instructors want to design their own projects or match with existing projects, you'll have access to over 31,000 industry partners to choose from. 

5. Integrating necessary technology

In a virtual setting, technology is the backbone of successful implementation. Identify and integrate technological tools that facilitate seamless communication, project management, and collaboration. 

This may include learning management systems, virtual meeting platforms, and project tracking tools. Ensure these technologies are accessible and user-friendly for both students and faculty.

6. Periodic assessment and adaptation

Continuously assess the effectiveness of your VWBL program. Gather feedback from students, faculty, and industry partners to identify areas of success and aspects needing improvement. 

Be prepared to adapt the program based on these insights, ensuring that it remains relevant, effective, and aligned with your institution's evolving goals.

Navigating potential roadblocks

Bringing VWBL into traditional academic settings is not without its challenges. Here are some roadblocks you might face:

  • Synchronizing with industry partners: Establishing and maintaining synchronization with various industry partners is one of the biggest challenges. This involves coordinating schedules, aligning project objectives with academic goals, and ensuring that the real-world experiences offered are relevant and beneficial for students.
  • Equitable virtual access: Even though virtual learning is flexible in nature, it is essential to ensure that all students have equitable access to VWBL programs—which means more than just hardware and software. Strategies must be developed for robust internet connectivity and digital literacy support to bridge the digital divide.
  • Managing diverse timelines: VWBL programs often involve managing diverse timelines between academic schedules and industry demands. This can be challenging, as it requires flexibility and adaptability from both students and faculty. 
  • Faculty preparedness: Faculty play a pivotal role in the successful integration of VWBL. It is essential to address faculty hesitations or misconceptions, provide training, and equip them with the essential skills for student mentorship.
  • Technological demands: The technology used in VWBL must be robust, accessible, and user-friendly. This includes choosing appropriate platforms, providing technical support, and ensuring the technology enhances, rather than hinders, the learning experience.

Riipen: Your partner in overcoming challenges and embracing VWBL

As VWBL continues to evolve, it is essential to have a reliable and efficient partner. Riipen emerges as a leader in this space, offering an innovative platform that streamlines the VWBL process, making it more accessible, manageable, and scalable for academic institutions.

Riipen's user-friendly interface and comprehensive toolkit make it easy for institutions to connect with industry partners, design relevant projects, and manage the complexities of virtual collaboration. 

Andrew Carrothers of the University of Prince Edward Island had this to say about the user-friendliness of the platform, “Riipen makes it easy to search for projects that align with my course learning objectives. As long as the professor is willing to match with projects from any geographical location, there is sufficient breadth and quantity of projects to find good matches.”

As leaders in the work-based learning space, Rippen has worked hard to deliver targeted solutions that help reduce the administrative burden and logistical challenges that VWBL initiatives often face by connecting academia and industry.

Here are just a few of the ways it does this:

  • Riipen's vast global network of over 31,000 industry partners provides a diverse range of real-world projects, ensuring that students gain valuable, relevant experience.
  • The platform is designed with accessibility in mind, ensuring that students from various backgrounds can participate in VWBL.
  • Understanding the critical role of faculty, Riipen offers a wide range of resources and training to help educators seamlessly integrate VWBL into their curriculum. 

Most importantly, Riipen is capable of scaling VWBL programs across campuses. Whether an institution is looking to start small or expand an existing program, Riipen's scalable model allows for gradual growth or broad implementation. This flexibility is crucial for institutions that are at different stages of VWBL integration.

Scott Veenvliet of Fanshawe College had this to say, “Riipen has been a great asset that has aided in connecting me with groups that I had not previously had contact with. Riipen facilitated the sometimes difficult task of linking external organization needs to our program objectives, and as a result, this year's Fanshawe Research and Evaluation students will have a positive impact on several real-world projects.”

Uncover the potential of Riipen's VWBL capabilities in delivering large-scale WBL programs. Schedule a free demo.

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