Principles of WBL

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The aim of this module is to give you an introductory grounding in the key dimensions of workbased learning, to understand key principles, processes and key roles. You will begin to explore the implications of these on yourself.


Work-based learning (WBL) starts from the learning you’re already doing — either in a workplace or in an organisation where you’re volunteering.

There are many definitions of workbased learning (Conner, 2005). These definitions reflect a range of programme responses. A wide variety of wbl programmes exist, from apprenticeships, cooperative learning programmes, work placement. We are talking of a specific context, where work based learning is learning that takes place for, in, and through paid and unpaid work (UALL, 2006).

This rolls off the tongue but actually it is a challenging statement. Think about the implications of the word for. If you are an academic within tertiary education, it’s worthwhile taking some time now to think through the implications of this word.

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You might want to mind map your thoughts and there might be two aspects to this:
  • What might this statement mean for the design of curriculum, the process of learning, your role in supporting learners, and for assessment?
  • What might this statement mean for your own learning journey.

What is the learning?

WBL uses the activities you are already carrying out at work as a basis for learning. Practice, theory and reflection are the three dimensions of workbased learning. WBL also requires the learner to develop the skills of critical analysis, inquiry, research and development and practical application of new knowledge to work practices ( So, wbl involves growing practice, benefiting an organisation in a way that helps it develop further. It is a learning process that develops critical approaches to work and practice through reflection and development of knowledge relating to the work context (Hardacre and Workman, , 2010).

WBL has been described as

A learning process which focuses University level critical thinking upon work, (paid or unpaid) in order to facilitate the recognition, acquisition and application of individual and collective knowledge, skills and abilities, to achieve specific outcomes of significance to the learner, their work and the University (Garnett 2004, Inaugural lecture).

In WBL , the real challenges in work forms the curriculum. The knowledge base that informs the curriculum is developed from the work itself, supported by the academic institution.


Case Study: Jean

Introducing Jean...

Jean is enrolled in a Bachelor of Business degree, specialising in IT-related topics.

In the coming semester, she will take part in a six-week work placement as part of her studies.

We'll use Jean through this course to illustrate some key aspects of WBL principles and processes.


Case Study: Karen

Introducing Karen...

Karen is enrolled on a Diploma in Tourism - she wants to be a travel agent.

As part of the course requirements she is expected to complete a work based research project (case study) over a three week period.

We will use Karen through this course to demonstrate WBL principles and processes.

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  • Describe your own situation and the current learning you are doing within your work.
  • Describe how might you use a WBL approach to explore or better understand aspects of your work and context.
  • If you are a lecturer now, what thoughts emerge as you read about the importance of the work context being the basis for learning?