Apprenticeships vs Internships

As a model for learning, apprenticeships place emphasis on mastering a field through a process that is active, social, and authentic.

Here at Experience Institute, we believe in the value of apprenticeships as a model for learning. Apprenticeships place emphasis on mastering a field through a process that is active, social, and authentic.

But we see a lot of confusion regarding the difference between apprenticeships and internships. Although the two terms are often conflated, they each serve a very different purpose.

What’s an internship?

The concept of an intern first emerged in the medical world. The term referred to an individual who practiced medicine but was not licensed (yikes). Following WWI, the term evolved to mean a medical student in training after medical school. Today we use the word as a blanket term for anyone working as a student or trainee to gain experience. The job market is flooded with students and recent grads scrambling for internships in order to have a better chance of landing their dream job—or, in some cases, any job.

But what’s the purpose of an internship?

Typically, an internship provides an individual with an overview of a position or field over a short period of time. It’s surface-level learning geared toward candidates who are still exploring their interests and deciding what options they’d like to pursue.

How’s an apprenticeship any different?

By contrast, the traditional concept of an apprenticeship originated in the middle ages. It referred to the practice of assigning a novice to learn a trade under the direction of an expert. For example, think of blacksmiths and woodworkers. Commonly, people tend to associate the apprenticeship model with vocational careers.

But that’s changing. We’re changing it. The craftsmen and -women of today interact in a digital world, mastering the intangible. They build the invisible and unimagined, striving to understand the human experience to create better products, better lives, and a better world. We believe the apprenticeship model applies to all sorts of careers—whether in business, technology, design or social innovation. The possibilities are exciting and endless.

An apprenticeship is a position meant for someone who has decided on a career path and is looking to gain in-depth experience in a specific field. It consists of a combination of hands-on experience and classroom education. As an apprentice, you’re not grabbing coffee and making copies—you’re in the trenches alongside the veterans. Under an apprenticeship model, you learn business from successful executives and companies. You learn design from top designers or gain insight into social innovation from leading entrepreneurs, educators and experts.

There’s even an educational theory that explains how apprenticeships are beneficial because they provide hands-on, experiential learning that involves the learner in the process within the actual physical context and immerses them in authentic activities. Through an apprenticeship, the student becomes a better learner, developing the ability to integrate new knowledge with existing knowledge and apply that synthesis to challenges as they arise. By working alongside an expert and doing what they do, you learn to solve challenges in a real-world context, working both creatively and effectively.

Apprenticeships vs Internships: Which -ship is best for you?

When it comes down to it, internships and apprenticeships differ greatly in both process and purpose. For the self-starting, creative, and innovative learner, an apprenticeship in a field like business, design, or technology just might be the best education you could ask for.

Want to learn more about our experience-based educational program?

Our founding students created short capstone videos to share their experiences as apprentices and hands-on learners as they designed their own education over the course of a year. If you’d like to learn more about experiential learning or if you’re interested in joining the Ei community, just subscribe to our newsletter to stay in touch.