CIC - Winter 2021

Pandemic Brings Innovation To Work-Integrated Learning

Work-integrated learning has always been a critical component of the college and institute approach to post-secondary education, but like many activities around the world, it was largely put on hold as measures came into effect to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

In fact, according to a 2020 Statistics Canada crowd sourcing survey measuring the impact of the pandemic on the academic life of postsecondary students, about one-third of all participants reported that the pandemic resulted in the cancellation or postponement of their internship, co-op, or work placement. 

But as is often the case when adapting to challenges, the pandemic has also forced colleges and institutes to innovate and find new ways to deliver work-integrated learning. Simulations and online learning have emerged as promising avenues for the future of learning in variety of fields, from the trades to healthcare. 

For students in healthcare, securing in-person clinical placements before the pandemic was already a challenge. The public health restrictions and significant labour shortages exacerbated by covid meant that finding new ways to prepare students for the workplace became an urgent priority for many post-secondary institutions and organisations.   

Creating more alternatives has also been top of mind for our own association, which is why Colleges and Institutes Canada launched Virtu-WIL last August. This national initiative will provide healthcare students in nursing, medical laboratory sciences, and paramedicine with access to new, innovative work-integrated learning opportunities. This is made possible thanks to funding from the Government of Canada through the Innovative Work-Integrated Learning Initiative.

As part of the project, we are working with Simulation Canada and with colleges, institutes, and universities from across the country to create sustainable, collaborative partnerships. Together, we are creating 130 virtual simulations in both official languages.

During a simulation, students are exposed to real-world situations and make decisions on how to react. Following each simulation, students participate in a facilitated debrief session with an industry professional. They learn about how the simulation compares to real life, receive feedback on their choices, and have the opportunity to ask questions. Itís an efficient way for students to test their knowledge, practice clinical scenarios in a safe environment, and develop a broad range of skills.

Virtu-WIL simulations will be made as accessible as possible, with the objective of reaching 4,000 students between September 2021 and March 2022. At the end of the pilot period, the simulations, documentation, and program resources will be freely available to allow even more students to benefit.

The program will help expand healthcare education resources and create new innovative work-integrated learning opportunities and platforms. This will go a long way towards supporting our future healthcare professionals in developing practical, job-ready skills before entering the labour market. The project will also support educators, employers, and technology suppliers in discovering new ways to collaborate and leverage what virtual simulation has to offer.

Even though online learning is not always ideal for the trades, the pandemic has shown that it can be done to an extent, which opens up interesting opportunities to create more flexible pathways for learners. It has also provided the additional push needed to further develop some very promising technologies.

For example, in BCITís Automotive Service Technician program students can use mixed reality to view, manipulate, disassemble and reassemble 3D holograms of scanned automotive parts overlapped with real-world settings. They also use virtual reality to deliver an introductory course in railway skills to a small group of Indigenous students living near Prince George. 

Durham Collegeís Mixed Reality Capture Studio gives partner organizations access to technical expertise, student talent, and a state-of-the-art motion capture stage to help develop immersive and interactive simulation for both training and performance optimization purposes. And Red Deer Collegeís Virtual Reality and Co-operative Trades program built on a collaboration with Montana First Nation to redesign the traditional apprenticeship model and train apprentices before they enter the workplace through virtual reality. 

By leveraging those opportunities, continuing to work in close partnership with employers, and by investing in new technologies that are redefining the concept of hands-on learning, colleges and institutes are showing that work-integrated learning still has a bright future, despite the pandemic. After all, it remains one of the best ways for students to apply their skills and gain the valuable work experience that employers are looking for. 

By: Denise Amyot, President and CEO,
Colleges and Institutes Canada