Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) Definitions

Work-integrated learning is a model and process of curricular experiential education which formally and intentionally integrates a student’s academic studies within a workplace or practice setting. WIL experiences include an engaged partnership of at least: an academic institution, a host organization and a student. WIL can occur at the course or program level and includes the development of learning outcomes related to employability, personal agency and life-long learning.

Below are the various types of WIL and their typical attributes:

  1. Applied Research Projects: Students are engaged in research that occurs primarily in workplaces, includes: consulting projects, design projects, community-based research projects.
  2. Apprenticeship: Apprenticeship is an agreement between a person (an apprentice) who wants to learn a skill and an employer who needs a skilled worker and who is willing to sponsor the apprentice and provide paid related practical experience under the direction of a certified journeyperson in a work environment conducive to learning the tasks, activities and functions of a skilled worker. Apprenticeship combines about 80% at-the-workplace experience with 20% technical classroom training, and depending on the trade, takes about 2-5 years to complete. Both the workplace experience and the technical training are essential components of the learning experience.
  3. Co-operative Education (co-op alternating and co-op internship models): Co-op alternating consists of alternating academic terms and paid work terms. Co-op internship consists of several co-op work terms back-to-back. In both models, work terms provide experience in a workplace setting related to the student’s field of study. The number of required work terms varies by program; however, the time spent in work terms must be at least 30% of the time spent in academic study for programs over 2 years in length and 25% of time for programs 2 years and shorter in length.
  4. Entrepreneurship: Allows a student to leverage resources, space, mentorship and/or funding to engage in the early-stage development of business start-ups and/or to advance external ideas that address real-world needs for academic credit.
  5. Field Placement: Provides students with an intensive part-time/short term intensive hands-on practical experience in a setting relevant to their subject of study. Field placements may not require supervision of a registered or licensed professional and the completed work experience hours are not required for professional certification. Field placements account for work-integrated educational experiences not encompassed by other forms, such as co-op, clinic, practicum, and internship.
  6. Internships: Offers usually one discipline-specific, supervised, structured paid or unpaid, and for academic credit work experience or practice placement. Internships may occur in the middle of an academic program or after all academic coursework has been completed and prior to graduation. Internships can be of any length but are typically 12 to 16 months long.
  7. Mandatory Professional Practicum/Clinical Placement: Involves work experience under the supervision of an experienced registered or licensed professional (e.g. preceptor) in any discipline that requires practice-based work experience for professional licensure or certification. Practica are generally unpaid and, as the work is done in a supervised setting, typically students do not have their own workload/caseload.
  8. Service Learning: Community Service Learning (CSL) integrates meaningful community service with classroom instruction and critical reflection to enrich the learning experience and strengthen communities. In practice, students work in partnership with a community-based organization to apply their disciplinary knowledge to a challenge identified by the community.
  9. Work Experience: Intersperses one or two work terms (typically full-time) into an academic program, where work terms provide experience in a workplace setting related to the student’s field of study and/or career goals.
    Please click here to access the WIL Definitions print-friendly resource.

*The Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning Canada Definitions criteria are intended for program design.

CEWIL Canada acknowledges and affirms the rights of students with disabilities to have equal access to work-integrated learning programming. Exceptions to the above will be supported to meet the duty to accommodate and ensure that all students have full and equal access of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Apprenticeship Facts

There are many benefits for employers who hire and train apprentices including an impressive return on investment for their efforts. Employers get employees who are willing to learn and work hard, and take part in developing and strengthening Canada’s workforce with needed skills in trades.

Apprentices learn your business first: how you do things and skills to best serve your business.
A journeyperson who has completed their apprenticeship with your organization will be a strong fit.
Employers with apprentices experience higher sales and profits.

Apprenticeship is 20% classroom training and 80% workplace experience: this is why employers who hire students are so important. During work with an employer sponsor or journeyperson, apprentices learn the skills they need to succeed in their industry.

One third of Canada’s workforce will retire in 2030: competition will become tough for employers looking to attract and retain good workers.


What Students Can Do For You

Benefits of Co-operative Education for Students, Employers, and Institutions.

Co-operative Education is a bridge between the employer, the student, and the academic institution. It benefits everyone involved. The employer benefits from the latest theories and fresh ideas from the academic world, the institution gets practical input from the professional community, and the students receive hands-on experience in their chosen field of study.


  • Co-op programs alternate study terms with paid work experience terms that are related to the student's academic field.
  • Co-op gives students a well-rounded education. It is an opportunity to expand their knowledge and to practice the latest theories and approaches in their particular discipline, and it also allows the student to develop employment skills, explore career options, and network with potential employers, which gives them a competitive edge when entering the workforce.
  • Co-op work terms are supervised and evaluated by both the employer and the post-secondary institution.


  • Students bring new ideas, fresh perspectives, and enthusiasm to the workplace.
  • Co-op programs offer continuous access to diversely talented and highly motivated students and aid in vetting students before the hiring process begins, which reduces recruiting costs.
  • Co-op students are short-term employees, which can be helpful to businesses in temporary times of need.
  • Co-op terms may be an opportunity to evaluate a potential long-term employee before committing: many employers choose to hire co-op students after graduation.
  • Co-op students can work on a wide range of assignments, from specific projects to general support: see What Students Can Do For You in our WIL examples above.


  • Co-op programs attract top-quality, well-motivated students, which leads to increased enrollment.
  • Co-op students improve the institution’s visibility and reputation through their interactions with the community.
  • Institutions gain information on current research and development in employer sectors, which leads to collaboration opportunities.
  • Because of their increased engagement, co-op students enrich the general educational community of the campus.
  • Institutions receive feedback from employers on the quality and relevance of program curriculum.

For more information about hiring a co-op student or enrollment in a co-operative education program, please use our Directory (re-launching Spring 2021) for a complete list of member institutions and their co-operative education programs.

Recruiting Ethics

The successful recruitment of co-operative education students depends upon the collective activities of three parties – the interested employer, the co-op student, and the associated educational institution. 

All participants must adhere to Provincial and Federal legislation in their recruitment and employment practices. 

However, CEWIL (formerly CAFCE) supports additional guidelines concerning recruiting ethics that support the development of a mutually beneficial and fair process for all concerned.

Download a complete copy of Recruiting Ethics - Employer, Student, Institution

Standards and Rationale

The Standards and Rationale document provides details to support the value and importance of the accreditation process. Post-secondary institutions interested in the accreditation and re-accreditation of their co-operative education programs will find this invaluable.

Download a complete copy of Standards and Rationale.