Work based learning and its value
Three common understandings of the term work based learning are:
- Learning for work e.g. work placements on a sandwich degree programme (may be referred to as work placed learning)
- Learning at Work e.g. in house training or personal development programme
- Learning through work with formal accreditation
Understanding 1 (even though it as a long history at higher education level) and understanding 2 are not usually assessed or accredited. For higher education (in consultation with employer organizations and the employee) the newer understanding 3 brings with it the role of providing academic rigor by way of i) defining appropriate learning outcomes, ii) effective teaching and learning strategies and iii) valid and reliable assessment.
If these three elements are met then the work based learner will more likely be in a position to reap the satisfying rewards of self fulfillment and self development which will be important in motivating them during the period of a course. For work based learning to be of value to an employer organization, then at the end of the learning process, amongst other things they may like to see that the learner has i) acquired specific skills ii) demonstrated general problem solving skills iii) demonstrated ability to be creative in generating ideas, in addition to iv) a mechanism to identify what level of skills and ability an individual has achieved. With the advent of e-learning in general and web 2.0 technology in particular, Higher education is in a position to take advantage of the ease of use and flexibility of 21st century learning tools to i) improve communication between all three parties ii) provide opportunities for learners to present and externalize their knowledge iii) engender a dialogic framework that can easily elicit feedback from tutors, employers and the wider world and iv) foster the development of a learners own personal learning environment and personal knowledge management skills to enhance their development as a lifelong learner.
This last point may have additional resonance with employer organizations that have a mindset of a learning organization, as they will be looking to go beyond isolated programmes of learning and look to embed systems which encourage learning and will benefit the whole organization as an ongoing way of being. This sort of organization will ideally have structures in place that encourage individual participation, create opportunities for interaction and create mechanisms to share ideas so that a culture of learning from each other ensues.
Differences between WBL and classroom learning
David Gray refers to Raelin (2000) who argues that work based learning is different to classroom learning in a number of important ways:
- Work based learning is centered around reflection on work practices
- Work based learning views learning as arising from action and problem solving within a working environment.
- Work based learning requires not only the acquisition of knowledge but the acquisition of meta-competence – learning to learn.
For these reasons and the fact that the adult learner is perceived to be self-directed, has personal experience and motivation to bring to the table of learning assessment methods for work based learning need to be reflected in a student-centered, problem-based approach rather than formal examinations that characterize traditional assessment methods. With this in mind assessment methods could include:
- Self and peer assessment
- Assignments and projects
- Portfolio building
- Practical assessment of professional competence in the workplace
In addition it’s important to note that “the link between a learner’s objectives and the outputs of learning can be bridged through the use of learning contracts”. Gray (2001)1
With employers having an investment in the learning of work based learners and the benefits that this will offer in the future this further “underlines the need for developing the higher level skills of analysis, evaluation and synthesis as well as the ability to be an independent learner”. Gray (2001)1
WBL and Web 2.0
Web 2.0 technology sits nicely within a student centered, problem based approach learning and the socio-constructivist approach that this implies. There are many web 2.0 technologies that can become home for student developed resources; The staple web 2.0 tools will be Blogs for reflection, wikis for collaboration and resource management and e-portfolios for presentation of knowledge, ideas and the products of the learning process. Also in this connectivist age in addition to their own Personal Learning Networks, there should also be a role for an institution or employer initiated web 2.0 based learning network which can help to facilitate the informal and incidental learning that can be so useful.