Virtual Internships Step 6 - Formal Learning & Development
Designing Learning Experiences
As noted above, the content of L&D programmes varied across organisations, but we did see some commonalities. All organisations had an induction programme which is discussed in detail in step one. This included specific training around tools or technology required as part of the interns' daily work tasks. Many provided specific content around working in an online environment, for example, resilience, time management, stress management, how to set up meetings and arranging calendar invites. One organisation recognised the importance of learning agility and their formal development programme for interns emphasised developing learning agility. A number of other methods used for training interns which were not unique to virtual internship programmes, but which provided valuable knowledge were identified. For example, lunch and learn sessions were used in a number of organisations to introduce interns to other employees’ areas of expertise, to different parts of the business or key initiatives.
Given the challenges of sharing organisational values and culture identified earlier, a number of organisations placed a key emphasis on this in L&D programmes. In one technology company, where being curious and asking questions was core to their values, a partnership with Toastmasters was used as a key means of developing confidence in public speaking and contributing to discussions. Interns were active members of this programme.
Most organisations leveraged technology, which was generally pre-existing, to support intern learning journeys. These included platforms such as GetAbstract, LinkedIn Learning, Skillsoft and in-house Learning Management Systems. Beyond curated content, organisations encouraged interns to engage with this material during quieter periods of work.
There was some recognition that training that was traditionally classroom based could not simply be moved online without being given further consideration. This is important insight as academic research evidence suggests for effective web-based courses to be as effective as classroom face-to-face instruction, design conditions which must be implemented include, providing trainees with control over the pace of their learning, practice on the training material and feedback. Research evidence on virtual reality (VR) training for social skills, in particular, recognises that VR is effective subject to some conditions i.e. VR programmes that provide information and knowledge to improve social skills (e.g. presentation, interpersonal, communication) are effective, mostly in terms of reaction and learning outcomes. However, there is some further research and development work to be done to improve VR programmes that try to train social skills using practice as the effectiveness varies considerably.
“And then you have the classroom bit …, it’s very important and we need to think about what is the objective of the training, because you cannot just take what you did in the classroom and make it virtual. That doesn’t work. You need to kind of start again and go, oh what is the objective or purpose of the training, is it upscaling them on tools, is it that they want to have knowledge and awareness of what the teams do, is it that they want them to get to know each other and based on that objective, design something virtually that works”.
In a number of organisations, we saw a real effort to develop L&D interventions which linked to learning but were clearly targeted at the profile of the intern populations. These initiatives emphasised fun, networking with other interns and employees in the organisation through challenging tasks.
The Value Of Reflection
Relatively few organisations emphasised formally tracking skills acquisition or learning amongst interns. Such information can prove valuable to the organisation in evaluating programmes (see also step 7). However, having interns reflect on their own learning journey can be invaluable to them for enhancing self-awareness of their development and how their learnings could transfer to other contexts. We saw a number of examples of organisations where such reflection was an integral part of the programme. One telecoms company had a scheduled check-in half-way through the programme and at the end, with a focus on discussing the interns’ developmental journey. We also saw the use of learning logs or diaries in a number of organisations. The level of sophistication of these learning logs varied. In one professional services firm, a graduate diary was used for interns to reflect on their learnings in the previous week, things they would change, ideas of what they would do differently the following week and other prompts for what they might like to remember. One programme manager reflected on the value of learning logs in their programme.
“We have learning logs created for interns to make sure they are keeping track of their development...we continuously track where our interns are at but they're able to really kind of learn about new areas of the business or new areas in general that they might never have thought about before necessarily. So I know even from my own experience, working for a tech company, I come from a marketing background, but I was able to upskill in elements such as like CSS, HTML, and things like that. So really kind of learning these new what we like to call future-ready skills. But most importantly as well showcasing that these are the skills that might be necessary to learn if you are interested in a career that you want to go forward in.”
 Sitzmann et al. (2006), The comparative effectiveness of Web-based and classroom instruction: A meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 59, 623-664
 Howard, M.C. & Gutworth, M.B. (2020), A meta-analysis of virtual reality training programmes for social skill development, Computers & Education, 144,