Summer interns at Inter-American Development Bank. Photo: Alex Guerrero, Flickr
By Amy Potthast.
What separates unpaid internships from other kinds of volunteering in the nonprofit sector? While well-designed volunteer programs consider what’s in it for the volunteer, internships should emphasize educational and training benefits to the intern.
As an intern, or as an intern manager, how do you ensure an internship will be educational?
- First, agree on learning objectives.
- Then, tie internship activities to the objectives.
What are learning objectives?
Objectives are goals for learners, and center on observable behaviors that learners display at the end of learning experience (a class or in this case, internship). Ideally, learners’ behavior will change because they’ve learned something new as a result of the internship.
Typically, objectives include:
- A statement that begins, “By the end of this [internship], learners will be able to…”
- A verb that describes an observable action
- Conditions under which the learner will be able to take action
So an example objective for an intern working in a nonprofit might be, “By the end of this internship, Jeremy will be able to draft a full event marketing plan, incorporating feedback from staff during the creation and revision processes.”
How do you write learning objectives for an internship?
Good objectives take into account knowledge, skills, and attitudes. They progress from simple to more complex (as the intern gains mastery).
Consider both the intern’s and the organization’s interests—what do both need to get out of the internship in order for it to be successful?—to brainstorm ideas for what to include in a list of objectives that will guide specific activities for the internship.
Drawing on Bloom’s Taxonomy, you can establish objectives related to:
- Cognitive learning – recalling, explaining, producing, etc.
- Skills acquisition – demonstrating, building, implementing, managing, etc.
- Emotional development – listening, acknowledging, questioning, etc.
If the intern is getting school credit for their participation, you may have had to establish specific educational objectives in order to complete school-mandated paperwork.
Using the objectives
Once intern and intern manager have agreed on several objectives, use these to guide the intern’s activities.
Returning to the example above, with Jeremy creating a full event marketing plan, related activities that might build up to the plan’s completion could include things like:
- Fully grasping the event in question by getting a good orientation, and participating in the event and/or in meetings to plan it
- Researching what goes into a marketing plan
- Talking with marketing professionals to get ideas for event outreach
- Creating and analyzing a survey of past event participants
- Evaluating how the event has been marketed to date
- Drafting and getting feedback on pieces of the marketing plan
- Revising pieces of the marketing plan based on feedback
Agreeing on objectives can help an intern understand the bigger picture of their assignments, and can gently remind intern managers that internships are, after all, about educating the intern.
Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at amypotthast.com.