Learning through Internships

Learning through Internships (LTI) is a unique educational strategy aimed at making education more relevant and engaging. Unlike the job-training placements of prior reform generations, the Big Picture Learning approach to LTI experiences is not intended to consign students to a vocational track that steers them away from college. Part of the growing movement to prepare all students for college, careers, and civic participation, LTIs seek to engage youth in rigorous project-based learning within a “real-world” 21st-century learning context.

While the primary purpose of a student’s LTI experience is to build knowledge, understanding, and skills in the context of authentic work, fundamental to the Big Picture Learning approach, is that each student learns through pursuing his or her own interests and passions. LTIs offer a framework for teachers to gain awareness of, acknowledge, and validate the learning that occurs around these interests outside of school. By extending the educational process beyond the walls of the classroom, students are encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning and become inspired life-long learners.

Few learning experiences in schools apply the well-established power of integrating hand, heart, and mind learning and real-world contexts, but the Big Picture Learning approach to LTIs aims to give every student and teacher the tools, materials, and thinking to be designers, tool users, and creators of their world. Every student completes project work that is relevant and useful to the internship site; in this way, the experience benefits the mentor and internship site as well as providing “real-world” experience for the student intern. The role of the school-based educator is to assist the student intern and mentor in developing authentic project work so that learning becomes visible.

LTI creates the framework for adults and young people to get to know each other, to develop close relationships, and to learn from each other about the messiness of real world planning, critical thinking and problem solving. However, LTI is not simply about the product that is created or the service that is rendered. On a deeper level, it is about children and adolescents learning to become mature, thoughtful adults.

LTIs & The Classroom

Although LTIs can be configured in a number of ways, at Big Picture Learning Schools it is not an add-on to the instructional approach used in the classroom but rather a process at the center of students’ learning experiences. LTI is a way to activate curiosity and increase students’ engagement so that they have a more concrete understanding of the relevance of core conceptual knowledge and critical 21st century competencies, including dispositions such as curiosity and life-long learning as well as collaboration and creativity. These are all vital capacities that are increasingly demanded by the highly competitive careers of the 21st century and embraced by the Common Core State Standards.

What most people miss in education is that just focusing on “skills” (academic and career) are not enough to get students through college and work. An LTI provides the context for social emotional learning and the development of social capital. Rather than a purely instrumental approach that seeks to train students with a particular set of technical skills that might enable them to fulfill the requirements of a particular low-level entry trainee position in the workforce, LTI experiences help students become “work-ready” though prolonged and repeated experiential learning and production of authentic products that are of value to the site where the LTI occurs. It also helps students develop beyond improving their own individual mind-set, and build community-minded awareness and connection.

What does it mean when students are in charge of their internship work?

Learning through Internships Process

It is important to note that in the Big Picture Learning approach to LTIs, the educators don’t “match” students to internships. Instead, educators gain a holistic understanding of each individual student to guide them through a variety of self-reflective processes and exploration activities in order to elucidate their interests and passions. Students are guided through the process of searching for prospective sites where they are interested in conducting an informational interview, and/or shadowing for a day.

Simultaneously, educators work with students to develop the technical skills necessary to present themselves professionally. Students learn how to write cover letters and resumes, engage in appropriate email etiquette, and how to make follow up phone calls to schedule appointments. In preparation for informational interviews, educators facilitate role-plays and scaffold the processes of background research and question generation. Additionally, students learn how to follow up with timely thank you notes and follow through on next steps for securing an LTI experience.

There are FOUR steps to the Learning Through Internships (LTI) Process:

  1. Interest Exploration and Research 
  2. Informational Interviews and Shadow Days
  3. LTI Set-up and Project Development
  4. Project and Monitoring