What is the Difference Between a Practicum and an Internship?
Understanding the difference between a practicum and an internship can better prepare students for the curriculum demands of their degree programs.
Essentially, educational practicums and internships are supervised on-site work experiences that allow students to practice and demonstrate their developing skills and competencies in their chosen career. While these experiences bear some similarities in design, their purpose and scope are quite different.
The Practicum Experience
Practicums are field experiences that allow a student to observe and document how working professionals perform their job responsibilities. Students will also participate to a limited extent in performing tasks under supervision by program professors and on-site staff. Concurrently, students enroll in a course which outlines the expectations and requirements of the practicum.
The expectations associated with a practicum vary according to the career. For example, a practicum in teaching may require assisting the teacher with implementing small group instruction, whereas a practicum in nursing may entail recording vital signs for one or two patients under supervision. General characteristics of practicums include:
Shadowing one or more assigned employees who will guide the on-site experience.
Observing and correlating practices in the field with theories and methods previously studied.
Recording data or assisting with tasks as directed by on-site personnel.
Completing practicum course assignments.
Participation at the practicum site is typically two or three times per week for a few hours per session. No remuneration is expected for a practicum, but it does qualify for academic credit.
The Internship Experience
As compared to practicums, internships take on the characteristics of a real job focusing on the independent application of skills and knowledge in the workplace setting. Students are placed with on-site professionals who manage their workload and oversee their performance much as an administrator in an actual employment setting would. Additionally, program instructors visit the student two to three times during the internship to evaluate their progress and performance.
A major difference between a practicum and an internship involves the degree of expected involvement of the student with hands-on work. The expansion of task expectations can be demonstrated using the previous examples from the education and medical fields. Compared to a practicum student, student teaching interns would not only assist with lesson planning but collaborate with their supervising teachers to create and instruct whole-group lessons independently. Similarly, nursing interns would go beyond mere charting of vital signs. They would be expected to understand and freely perform evaluation procedures on multiple patients, then accurately record their results and consult with their nursing supervisor about them.
Internships are usually considered to be full-time experiences, following the work schedule of the assigned placement. They also receive academic credit. As an avenue for preparing graduates for careers, academic practicum and internship experiences are valuable tools for learning. They not only afford students opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and practice their skills in real-world settings but prepare students for the realities of the workplace.
By understanding the differences between a practicum and an internship, students have the advantage of being better prepared to navigate the curriculum of the degree programs they are pursuing.
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