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To conduct research on methods of learning that integrate experience in the world with experience in the classroom. We call this approach practice-oriented education (POE).

Historical Context

Northeastern University has a long history of preparing students for the professional workplace, particularly through its signature cooperative education program. More recently, while strengthening its position of excellence as a national research university that is student-centered, practice-oriented, and urban, the university and the university administration prioritized and broadened its commitment to the practice-oriented education goal. For example, in his essay, How Practical Experience Can Help Revitalize Our Tired Model of Undergraduate Education, President Freeland espoused an educational experience in which "intellectual and emotional skills can be nurtured through thoughtfully designed experiences that link academic work to real world activity."

Through progress in articulating a priority for POE and in undertaking curricular changes, including departmental Integrated Learning Models, the university has begun a serious and rigorous investigation of practice-oriented education. Thus, in the fall of 1999, a Practice-Oriented Education Conference Planning Committee was charged by President Freeland and convened by Provost Hall. The work of that committee included the planning and implementation of two internal practice-oriented mini-conferences and culminated in April, 2001 with Northeastern’s first national conference of practice-oriented education, ‘Understanding Practice-Oriented Education: Transforming Higher Education.’ Two years later in April of 2003, the Second International Conference on Practice-Oriented Education was held at Northeastern. The purpose of the Conference was to assemble thought leaders among the multiple traditions that constitute learning from practice in order to seek a common conceptual foundation. Among the traditions represented at the Conference were: experiential learning, service learning, action learning, work force development, cooperative education, critical pedagogies, communities of practice, and social constructivism.

Broader Statement

The Center’s primary mission will be scholarship and capacity building in the area of practice-oriented education. With respect to its own research, the Knowles Chair and Center staff will conduct path-breaking empirical and theoretical research on the elements of practice-based learning. The Chair will also raise significant funds to expand the initial research capacity of the Center and to ensure its growth in the future. Although this research can and should focus significantly on learning that occurs in practice-based settings, such as co-op, internships, clinics, and community service, it should also focus on other sites of POE learning including practice-oriented classrooms and labs.

As a research institute, the Center will be designed to seed and facilitate POE research opportunities for other members of the university as well as conduct its own. It will also be engaged in the design and development of research models for assessing POE data throughout the university. Since the Center is designed to build capacity, it is important that it investigate effective research strategies as well as produce research outcomes.

The assessment of POE outcomes will be a particularly fertile site of investigation for the Center and for the projects it supports. The ultimate success of practice-oriented education as a paradigm for higher education will depend in significant part on the ability to assess the knowledge, skills, and values that comprise competence, even expertise, in different POE contexts. Not only is assessment important for weighing the learning outcomes of individual students, but it is also a way to recalibrate POE itself to maximize the learning potentials for a diverse group of students.

The focus on research and assessment should not obscure the Center’s role in promoting practice-oriented education pedagogies and rich POE learning environments throughout the university. Although some of this work will necessarily be coordinated with the Center on Effective University Teaching, the Center will play a crucial role in building the capacity of university educators and their practice affiliates to develop POE teaching methodologies that maximize learning. In many instances, these pedagogies will not be focused on the performance of educators but on the structure and deployment of resources and tasks within a POE learning environment. In other instances, the Center will play an important role in examining the university’s experience with newly promulgated Integrated Learning Models. Thus, even though the Center can help provide pedagogical and planning strategies for individual educators, hopefully it will also build POE collaborations and departmental teams as well.

One way to help develop capacity in the university will be for the Center to collect resources for POE researchers. Though the Center will house its own small library collection, it will coordinate the development of a robust POE collection to be housed at Snell.

In addition to providing resources for those engaged in scholarly pursuits, the Center will also assist in the dissemination of scholarly work on practice-oriented education to both internal and external audiences. Thus, the Center will regularly sponsor symposia, workshops, and seminars on POE-related topics during which internal and external scholars can present their works. Some of these activities will be designed for a more intensively involved group of POE investigators, but other activities will be oriented toward disseminating POE perspectives and insights to broader audiences.

As part of its agenda, the Center will be trying to establish a reputation and forge relationships both internally at Northeastern and internationally as well. Building and supporting internal constituencies is particularly important given the university’s desire to become much more rigorously practice-oriented in its educational program. At the same time, Northeastern has a legitimate interest in advancing the understanding of university educators worldwide about the power of POE learning.

Center for Work and Learning Logo

The logo for the Center for Work and Learning is based on the image of the double helix. The two strands twist around each other in a continuous cycle and eventually come together, symbolizing the integration of work and learning. The double helix is also considered to be a marker for the form of inquiry to which we aspire, where creativity and evidence come together to construct new knowledge.



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