Principal researchers

Paige Stirling and Jay Michela


During the academic year of 2016-2017, 1.7 million students were enrolled at universities across Canada (Universities Canada, 2017)—more students than ever before. Even so, it is still widely recognized that many students do not possess the competencies required for career success upon graduation (Sid Nair, Patil, & Mertova, 2009). Research in the field of education has recognized that experiences are helpful in developing competencies, however the matter of how these experiences result in competency development is not yet well understood. As such, this program of research seeks to conceptualize how experiences result in competency development so as to promote the effective development of competencies. One method currently used by educators to develop competencies is co-operative education (Freudenberg, Brimble, & Cameron, 2011). With co-operative education, it is thought that students’ application of discipline-based knowledge in work experience will promote the development of employer-desired competencies. In the education literature, Experiential Learning Theory (Kolb, 1984) indicates that an individual learns by cycling through a systematic process of experiential learning. Applying this process to competency development in co-operative education, it is suggested that students can develop competencies by successfully progressing through the stages of the experiential learning cycle, and thus improving performance in competency-relevant situations. This research seeks to investigate whether progress through the stages of the experiential learning cycle is the basis of competency development and examines university, employer and employee contributions to competency development.