Unit 1. Work Context: Work-Based Learning

Work-Based Learning can be understood as the learning process that occurs when people do real work, paid or unpaid, that leads to the production of real goods and services. This simple definition can be broadened into two more open concepts. A narrow interpretation relates WBL to the learning in the workplace that is driven by employer interests whereas a broader perspective focusses on learning that relates to work and is driven by individual and societal needs. LINK-INC approach understands Work-Based Learning as a full spectre including several parts: a process of lifelong learning, active labour market measures and mainstream VET at all skill levels.

Figure 1. WBL broad concept

Figure 1. WBL broad concept

In this sense, Work-Based Learning need to be understood as an instructional strategy that is essential in preparing students for success in education and careers. To do so, four learning strategies are carried out within WBL: help people learn about work, learn about particular jobs, learn about the skills needed to perform specific jobs, and learn about how to move between jobs.
Regarding terminology, some confusion is associated across Europe with the meaning of WBL and the form that WBL should take to achieve its learning outcomes. A wide range of terms are used in European countries for the concept of WBL: work integrated learning, workplace learning, work-related learning, vocational learning, flexible learning, experiential learning, situated learning, competence-based learning, problem-based learning and problem solving learning. To avoid this confusion WBL should focus on a common fundamental tool: the curriculum. CEDEFOP outlines the curriculum as a dynamic framework guiding teaching and learning processes and as a steering mechanism for quality. Within the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, the European Council recommends using curricula as an instrument to foster more learner-centred approaches in education and training. An integrated curriculum in WBL is a key to successfully matching education and training provision to learner and labour market needs. To do so, WBL curriculum needs to balance vocational interests (in terms of skills, attitudes and knowledge) that are judged to be important for the world of work, and the critical thinking skills associated with academic learning. This implies the adoption of a ‘learning outcomes’ or competencies based approach when developing the curriculum, valuing what a learner knows, understands and is able to do on completion of a learning process is seen by many European countries as an effective way to enhance employability and promote active learning and inclusive teaching by means of WBL.

WBL general features

Types of WBL

There are several ways to classify WBL, but we are going to use the classification made by the European Training Foundation (ETF) since it has been developed for its broader international use. The main types of WBL are:

  • Programmes in which the learner is legally an employee. Formal apprenticeships and some types of alternance training. Also, informal apprenticeships may come under this heading.
  • Programmes in which the learner is legally a student. Traineeships, internships, work placements and cooperative education.
  • Borderline cases such as virtual firms, training firms, or ‘real’ firms that are attached to and part of educational institutions.
  • Programmes such as work shadowing and work experience. Aimed at teaching learners about work rather than teaching them to do work.

The differences between these types of WBL programmes are often not clear, as they can be quite similar or different depending on the different educational and training systems among countries. It is also important to be aware that wide variation can exist within each type. A visual approach for this classification can be seen in figure 2, having into account the workplace contact (frequent or limited) and the VET links (strong or weak).


Figure 2. Types of WBL. Source: ETF.

For the purposes of LINK-INC handbook, as is stated in the intellectual output 2 – LINK-INC training curriculum – we are going to focus on the main two types of WBL: those programmes in which the learner is an employee, mainly formal and informal apprenticeships, and those programmes in which the learners is a student, mainly traineeships and internships.

Features of the main types of WBL

WBL programmes in which the learner is an employee:

– Formal apprenticeships

Within this type of WBL the learner is legally an employee and is paid a wage, usually lower than regular workers. This lower wage normally is due the cost to the employer of providing training and also reflects the lower productivity of the apprentice compared to a skilled worker, particularly in the early period of the apprenticeship.
Learner signs a contract of employment and training with the company, with the following features:

  • It is normally signed by the learner and the employer.
  • In some cases third parties may also sign it (VET provider, public authorities, parents).
  • It specifies the duration of the employment and training period.
  • It specifies what each party is required to do: to learn, to provide employment, to teach skills, to attend regularly, to assess, etc.

The employment and training period included in the contract is divided between work carried out in an enterprise and classroom-based education and training. Usually learners spent more time at work than in classroom-based training, although it depends on the country. Furthermore, the formal apprenticeship is closely integrated into the normal operations of the enterprise over the working daily routine.

WBL formal apprenticeships are supported by legislation or regulations, usually by means of education or employment programmes. In this sense, apprenticeships are habitually linked to a recognised qualification. Most commonly this qualification is issued by a VET public authority, but apprenticeship qualifications can also be issued by an education and training provider, or by an employer organisation. Sometimes more than one qualification or certificate is awarded.

– Informal apprenticeships

This WBL training programmes are based on local traditions and customs but not formally regulated by public authorities or social partners. Informal apprenticeships don’t usually include classroom based learning and are based on a training informal agreement (written or oral) between an apprentice and a master craftsperson. In this agreement the master craftsperson commits to training the apprentice the in skills relevant to their field for a period of time, usually between one and four years. The apprentice commits to contributing productively to the work of the business since training is integrated into the production process and apprentices learn by working alongside the experienced craftsperson. Informal apprenticeships are common in many low- and middle-income countries.

WBL programmes in which the learner is a student
Several types of WBL programmes are included within this case, such as internships, traineeships, work placements, work experience, alternance programmes and cooperative education. In any case, regarding the purpose of LINK-INC Handbook we are going to focus mainly on internships and traineeships. The Main features of these types of WBL programmes are:

  • Usually involve a majority of the time being spent in the classroom and only a minority in the workplace.
  • In most cases the major responsibility for the programme rests with the educational center (school or college) rather than with the social partners or individual enterprises.
  • The timetable of the educational center and the timing of school or college holidays often influence how much time students spend in the workplace.

Regarding their connection with the formal VET system, these type of WBL programmes can be loosely connected or quite closely connected. This depends on the involvement of several features, such as a close link to the formal curriculum; support by legislation or regulation; social partner involvement; a contract; and formal assessment of what has been learned in the workplace and credit for the achieved learning outcomes.

Types of learning integrated in WBL

As mentioned before, a broad conception of what WBL, must have into account the following types of learning.

  • Learning about work: help people to understand what work is (related with service, team-working, time-keeping and how work is organized).
  • Learning about jobs: to give people a sense of what different skills and aptitudes are needed in different types of jobs.
  • Learning how to do a particular job: to provide a vocationally specific training that will give a person the skills they need to undertake a particular job.
  • Learning how to progress in work: the career management skills that are needed to secure and retain employment and actively plan for subsequent moves.
Benefits of WBL

Finally, when considering the main features of WBL, it is important to highlight the benefits that WBL can bring to learners, policy makers, educational and training organizations, enterprises, as well as to market and society. Introducing and expanding appropriate WBL programmes can lead to new opportunities on productivity, motivation, development of new skills and creation of jobs. Figure 3 shows the wide range of stakeholders that are influenced by an appropriate WBL development.


handbook-graph3Figure 3. WBL Benefits for stakeholders. Source: ETF

As a summary, WBL can be seen as a powerful form of pedagogy which can lead to achieve the following benefits:

  • Improve individuals’ career development.
  • Lead to better youth transitions.
  • Raise the quality of vocational education and training.
  • Raise enterprise productivity and innovation.