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The Value of Practical Experience

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When AIER interns arrived on campus last week, their academic counselors were happy that students would be getting practical experience in the workplace. But what does “practical experience” mean and how is it different from classroom experience?

David Moore’s seminal 2013 book “Engaged Learning in the Academypresents a summary of the theoretical underpinnings of the educational value of learning in the workplace. The author suggests that the learning that occurs in the workplace is not just an “application” of the concepts acquired in the classroom. The out-of-school environment, Moore says, requires different kinds of cognition. The skills that are attained at a professional site differ from the skills developed in an academic setting.

One of the cognitive abilities that develop differently in the workplace as compared to academia is “problem formation,” according to Moore. Let me explain this in the context of an economic think-tank: At AIER, our researchers define an economic problem or issue, and then try to solve it or obtain the answer to a research question about this economic issue. Our interns work closely with the researchers on these tasks. Therefore, interns participate actively in both defining the problem and solving it.

In the classroom setting, on the other hand, the teacher is usually the one who defines the problem and assigns this problem to students to “solve” or research. Since the workplace requires additional tasks, our internship program helps students gain those additional cognitive abilities. In addition, the skills acquired in the classroom take a different form in the workplace. For example, critical thinking at AIER advocates action, preparation of well-articulated ideas, and efficient delivery of those ideas to others.

This is just one aspect of learning that occurs during an AIER internship. And as our alumni tell us, the skills they acquired here help them to land jobs in the marketplace.

Picture: 2016-2017 academic year interns at AIER. From L to R: Sakshi Pareek (Drexel University); Fahd Zia (Lee High School) ; AIER’s Max Gulker (standing); Kevin Deptula (Williams College); Jacob Broude (Williams College).

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