Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Management, Operations and Marketing


The Australian higher education environment has undergone significant change in recent years in order to better prepare learners with the essential knowledge, skills, and experiences to compete in an increasingly globalised, technological, and innovative workplace. One way universities are preparing their learners is by embedding aspects of work within or alongside curriculum, through work-integrated learning (WIL) initiatives.

However, in recent WIL studies, concerns have been raised around a perceived lack of alignment between university program structures, particularly in the form of assessments employed to evaluate and report learning, with the type of learning that occurs in the workplace through authentic workplace practices. This misalignment exposes a dis-integration between learning, work and assessment in WIL. To date, very little work has been conducted with students as they participate on placement to better understand informal learning in practice. Examining learning at the source - where it is enacted, as it is enacted - seems to be the most appropriate starting point to inform decisions on WIL assessment, institutional strategies, and even strategies for graduate preparedness that will better align, or integrate, work and learning through curriculum.

To investigate learning on placement, this study adopts a theoretical framework that identifies learning not as an end-state to be measured and judged, but as a participative process where knowing is ontologically linked with action. Rather than focussing on the ‘what’ as the central phenomena, this study draws attention to practices and relations rather than the thing itself. A research question, therefore, arises: What do interns do to learn work practices on placement? Drawing together two conceptual frameworks, sociomateriality and practice theory, this thesis explores what interns are actually doing in the workplace by examining how the social and material are entangled in everyday life. A second research question is, therefore, proposed: What are the social, contextual, and material relations that are productive of informal learning on placement?

Methodologically, a sociomaterial, practice-based approach invites questions and methods that highlight the practical, embodied, and situated. Ethnography was selected as a research practice that enables the researcher to draw out insights into the mundane, routine, and ordinariness of social life in a way that permits spatialtemporal proximity to materiality, relations, and action. The context for the study is a Commerce internship program, an elective subject at a regional Australian university. The participants involved are three interns on placement through the program, their supervisors, and work spaces.

Three key findings are offered. First, findings suggest intern experiences are variable and dependent on a range of factors that prefigure their performances. It is suggested that the things and people that make up these contexts, matter for their learning. Second, findings provide insight into how interns develop work practices. Analysis of the data shows how learning on placement involves performing the intelligibility and appropriateness of the work practice. Third, analysis of the data also suggests an intermediary bundle of practices that interns perform to position themselves on placement within workplace norms, routines, and changes. These transitioning placement practices are performed as interns learn to orient, conform, and adapt to new configurations of people, things, spaces, tools, bodies, and technologies.

The findings have implications for revising WIL assessment to re-integrate learning and practice. Contributions of the study include exposing traditions and oversights of learning in WIL, providing a critique of exiting models and trajectories of learning, contributing new insights into how interns learn on placement, and developing a sociomaterial, practice-based framework for theorising learning. The study makes theoretical, practical, and discipline-based contributions not only to the field of WIL, but more broadly to the domains of workplace learning, informal learning, professional learning, and practice.

FoR codes (2008)




Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.