Internships: a guided route through making mistakes
Some time ago my wife and I were doing an overhaul in our bathroom. It was a pretty big job, and there were a lot of things we didn’t know how to do. We watched a lot of videos on Youtube: this was knowledge-acquisition. But when we were in the bathroom and stuck on something we just didn’t understand, we called her brother, who does this sort of thing for a living in Minnesota. We relied on that family connection pretty heavily, and even resorted to sending him some pictures of what we were attempting from time to time. (“Wait, let me send you a bunch of photos.”) He very generously gave time to looking at the photos, telling us what mistakes to avoid, and encouraging us along the way. This was “guided experience-acquisition” (albeit from afar–we often ruminated that it would have been easier–for us, perhaps–if he lived in our town).
Learning how to do anything involves both knowledge-acquisition and experience-acquisition. Experience-acquisition typically involves making mistakes and learning from them.
Reading about something in a book or watching a how-to video is fine insofar as it goes. But nothing really beats having someone go with you and show you how it’s done. One of the key concepts in DMM is the MAWL acronym or its varieties (Model, Assist, Wach, Leave).
One way to think of internships or apprenticeships is: as a guided route through early mistakes. We have someone who’s done it before, and can help us through the early mistakes that form so much of the learning process. It’s okay to make mistakes and fail if you learn from it, and that’s what an internship can help you do.
Organizations need to offer internships as a key part of the early learning and onboarding process, and people need to seek those out in the process of seeking to become professionals.