In Work-Based Learning, students carry out real work as part of the curriculum. They are awarded academic and sometimes also professional qualification credits for meeting the required competencies within a framework of standards and levels. What is real work? It is contribution to a partner organisation, or when students provide a service to clients or customers.
In Boud and Solomon’s 2001 seminal work, "Work-based Learning: A New Higher Education?", Boud, Solomon & Symes1 referred to work-based learning as an important learning approach for ensuring relevance of learning at university; in partnership with companies, public agencies or community organisations and which leads to formal academic credit.
Work as curriculum is difficult to standardise, and so a learning contract or learning plan, and some form of structured learning have to be in place for all three parties (the university, organisation and individual learner) to work towards meaningful learning and contribution to the organisation. Accreditation of prior experiences, or recognition of prior learning provides access to the work-based learning programme for different levels and profiles of learners. This feature of work-based learning is useful for lifelong learning because it caters not only for pre-employed students, but also working adults. As such, we can expect to increasingly find work-based learning providers to be other than higher educational institutions (e.g., employers and training providers). They would have been approved by regulating authorities to award credits that meet the requirements of national level qualification frameworks for occupations.
It is necessary to distinguish work- based learning from workplace learning practices for employees - such as on the job training, coaching and mentoring - where the level of academic quality may not be monitored and credits not awarded (Figure 1).
Work-based learning is also a particular form of experiential learning; and part of a broader practice-based approach2 (or strategy). The latter incorporates career preparation and management skills, learning through simulations of workplace environments and engaging in activities that mirror some aspects of professional activities to develop workplace ready competencies. In Australia, work-integrated learning is the term used to describe the variety of learning approaches which may or may not involve external organisations3,4 and real clients (e.g., work-based learning, use of simulations, industry-based projects) (See Figure 2).
Reports & Info Booklets
“This report presents some of the common factors that have led to high performance in the work of 12 providers of work-based learning. It outlines the key challenges they faced on the journey to becoming outstanding and explains the ways in which they are seeking to sustain excellence. It includes profiles of the providers and leaders’ and managers’ views of the reasons for their success.” (p. 1)
The providers include not only educational institutions, but also independent training providers and employer-based providers. The learning outcomes are mapped to the requirements of the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ). NVQ is competency-based and allows for people with no formal qualifications but with adequate or extensive work experience to be recognized for having met the national standard for an occupational role. (Since October 2015, the Qualification & Credits Framework (QCF) and NVQ have been replaced by Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF).
The report focuses mainly on upper secondary vocational education and training (VET) because 50% of young people in Europe are enrolled in VET (p.3). The aim of VET is to “help learners acquire knowledge, skills and competencies which are essential in working life” (p. 5). There are three main models of work-based learning in VET in Europe: (1) apprenticeship (where students learn at both companies and VET schools or other education/training institutes), (2) on-the-job periods training in companies (e.g., internships), (3) integrated school-based programmes (e.g., “on site labs, workshops, kitchens, restaurants, junior or practice firms, simulations or real business/industry project assignments” with real customers or clients (p. 6).
With reference to examples from member countries, the report describes the features of the three work-based learning models, outlines the benefits of a high quality VET system, explains the success factors for work-based learning, and provides guidelines and tools for practice.
Boud and Solomon’s consideration of work-based learning encompasses possibilities ranging from apprenticeships, internships, attachment, and projects for industry, to in-class assignments that address an organisation’s needs. Professions that require work-based learning as part of the completion of a formal degree programme include the healthcare professions. Countries that have more developed work-based learning programmes in vocational and higher education are Australia, United Kingdom and those from the European Union such as Germany, Finland and the Netherlands. In Singapore, a more recent development of such applied learning is the introduction of Integrated Work Study Programme (IWSP) at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), Work-Study degree programmes at SIT and Singapore University of Social Science (SUSS) and the apprenticeship-based Technical Diplomas at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).
1 Boud, D., Solomon, N., & Symes, C. (2001). New practices for new times. In D. Boud, & N. Solomon (Eds.), Work-based learning: A new higher education? (pp. 3-18). Buckingham: The Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.
2 University of South Australia. (2018, February 6). Practice-based Learning. Retrieved from
3 University of South Australia (2018, February 6). Work Integrated Learning. Retrieved from https://i.unisa.edu.au/staff/teaching-innovation-unit/teaching/teaching-practice/student-engagement/work-integrated-learning/
4 McLennan, B., & Keating, S. (2008, June). Work-integrated learning (WIL) in Australian universities: The challenges of mainstreaming WIL. In ALTC NAGCAS National Symposium, Melbourne (pp. 2-14). Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.530.4443&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Advance CTE, US (2018, February 8). Work-based Learning. Retrieved from
OECD (2018, February 8). Work-based Learning. Retrieved from
This article gives a good overview of well-cited theories in the literature and how they can be applied in practice through a framework. The content provides much fodder for academic staff to consider and reflect when planning, designing and reviewing teaching practices for helping students learn from experience.
Clinical education for physicians is probably one of the earliest established work-based learning. The author presents a clearly articulated view of assessment of work-based learning with principles that can be considered beyond its presented context.
From the highlighted points in the paper: “This article explains what is meant by work based assessment and presents a classification scheme for current methods. Three aspects of doctors’ performance can be assessed—patients’ outcomes, process of care, and volume of practice. For a sound assessment of an individual doctor’s process of care, a sizeable number of patients need to be included. Databases for clinical audit are becoming more available and may provide more useful information relating to clinical practice.”
This is an article that contextualizes the purpose of the theme and introduces the six papers in the special issue on assessment and evaluation in work-based learning. The contributors of the special issue are part of the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning (UK) WBL Network.
“Work-based learning (WBL) is undertaken in a wide variety of higher education contexts and is increasingly viewed as a valuable, and increasingly essential, component of both the undergraduate and postgraduate student learning experience. However, the development of rigorous pedagogies to underpin WBL and its assessment is still embryonic. This paper presents a case study of how one medium sized institution, with experience of offering WBL for more than 20 years, has developed a pedagogical approach for both supporting and assessing WBL. The WBL model examined is based on the inter-relationship and inter-dependency between understanding learning, critical reflection and the identification and development of capability within a WBL context.” (Extracted from the abstract.)