The very concept of “Work-Based Learning” (WBL) means that learning is combined with work or learning takes place at workplace.
Understanding of WBL proposed by UNESCO:
“Work-based Learning refers to all forms of learning that takes place in a real work environment. It provides individuals with the skills needed to successfully obtain and keep jobs and progress in their professional development. Apprenticeships, internships, traineeships and on-the-job training are the most common types of work-based learning. These types usually – but not always – combine elements of learning in the workplace with classroom-based learning. Apprenticeships provide occupational skills and typically lead to a recognised qualification. They combine learning in the workplace with school-based learning in a structured way. In most cases, apprenticeships last several years. Most often the apprentice is considered an employee and has a work contract and a salary. Traineeships and internships are workplace training periods that complement formal or non-formal education and training programmes. They may last from a few days or weeks to months. They may or may not include a work contract and payment. On-the-job training is training which takes place in the normal work environment. It is the most common type of work-based learning throughout an individual’s working life.”
In higher education sector the term “Work-Based Learning” is being used to describe a class of university programmes that bring together universities and work organizations to create new learning opportunities in workplaces, where students are full-time employees whose study process is embedded in the workplace activities and is designed to meet the learning needs of the employees and the aims of the organization.
For many HEIs work-based learning is already a vital and legitimate mode of learning which acts as a driver for innovation in the HE system. However, extending this legitimacy necessitates developing strategies for bridging learning and work, for addressing the issues and challenges throughout the higher education system, for wider applicability of work-based learning practices in the HE sector.
For higher education, it is necessary to determine how to participate in work-based learning, so that universities are related to practice, and at the same time generate a new type of higher education based on students’ individual learning paths.
Under FlexWBL the work-based learning is considered as the educational strategy of universities, providing students with the opportunity to study and work simultaneously not only in the form of apprenticeships, internships or other “imitations” of work (as a semi-skilled workers), but in the form of full-fledged employment at the enterprise.
In tackling this agenda FlexWBL consortium has started to create an environment that enables HEIs to respond in a timely manner to identified WBL needs. Framework for implementation of work-based learning will be established by consortium universities and streamlined to HEIs of Armenia and Russia. This will include development of WBL curricula, WBL students sample portfolios, WBL educators’ network, WBL labs along with quality assurance and validation processes.
WBL curricula benefits
- Confirmation of knowledge and skills acquired at work;
- Minimization of training time through recognition of prior learning and its certification; integration of the content of past and upcoming continuing education courses, as well as the implementation of projects in the workplace;
- Focus on solving real problems;
- Networking learning opportunities with the necessary resources of other universities and external educational platforms;
- Flexible individual learning paths with the subsequent assignment of degrees corresponding to the achieved level and obtaining diplomas.
WBL students have the opportunity to independently choose study programmes, but it is limited by the priorities and objectives of the enterprise, so the curriculum and plan must be approved by both the university and the enterprise. As a result of negotiations various learning pathways are built. It is taken into account that students have different needs, sometimes changing over time, and the interests of each individual student, as a rule, cannot be satisfied by a standard set of disciplines, and therefore the curriculum is formed individually. Thus, the agreement reached on the plan of training and its results should be backed up by the resources and support from all parties of the educational process.
A typical student of WBL Curriculum is an adult working person, attending campus only occasionally; he needs higher education in order to qualify to remain an employee or to advance his career. WBL students in most cases register for these programmes on their own or are required to attend higher education institution by their employer. Sometimes they come from one employer as a group. Most of them both work and study.
A student studying under the WBL programme benefits production and improves himself by developing personal intellectual, critical and analytical skills, which are complemented by practical skills and knowledge. WBL students differ from ordinary students not only in age, experience, and aspirations, but also in increased motivation to study because they already well understand why they came to the university; they have a pronounced desire for professional, personal and career growth, for which they are ready to work hard. WBL programmes are attractive to them not only because they take into account already existing knowledge and experience, but also from the point of view of their greater effectiveness and quality due to filling them with deeper and more personally meaningful content, optimizing the time and effort spent.
WBL programmes are also popular with ordinary students studying in traditional programmes. Students studying on the more traditional paths of higher education can also take responsibility for finding and adapting a job to learn professional and universal skills as well.
The role of a WBL tutor can be varied and extensive, tutor’s actions will typically:
- help learners to become active in identifying their needs and aspirations and managing the learning process;
- act as a process consultant;
- help learners develop their abilities of critical reflection and enquiry;
- help learners identify and work with ethical issues;
- help learners make effective use of workplace resources;
- develop learners’ academic skills and help use them in the workplace;
- provide specialist expertise;
- inspire and encourage learners.
There should be real cooperation between the university and the enterprise, the purpose of which is to achieve the required quality of education. The partners of the university can be individual entrepreneurs, non-profit, volunteer, municipal and other organizations. By combining various material and intangible resources of partners, the necessary learning environment is created. If learning takes place directly at the workplace, special conditions must be provided for it, for example, providing opportunities for the implementation of learning projects, which must necessarily be associated with the development of real production processes.
WBL needs a more thoughtful organization of the educational process, in which the partnership between the university and the enterprise should be debugged so that study does not become an obstacle to the work of the student and the functioning of the enterprise as a whole. Partnership in WBL programmes is based on formal agreements between the university and the enterprise in various forms. It can be contractual agreements, memoranda, or other types of agreements, which indicate the duties and powers of each of the parties. As a rule, the contracts indicate how many employees (students) can be involved in the educational process, what is the period of study, what support should be provided to students at the enterprise, how does the WBL programme relate to the general policy of the development of human resources of the enterprise.
Employers tend to prefer short, intensive courses and small training programmes that are directly related to the needs of their business and easily fit into production schedules. Most of all, training should be relevant to the business, and training providers should be very flexible in the development and implementation of training programmes that take into account the individual needs of the company. Universities of the future will increasingly have to offer 1) initiatives that can meet this demand for short, focused modules, 2) schemes that use a flexible service delivery system, and 3) a creative approach to scheduling. All this entails the development of non-traditional, part-time alternative trajectories in higher education, as well as the emergence of modules that are designed specifically for production (even if any discipline is general) (Helyer, 2015).
The value of a university graduate who has mastered the WBL programme for the enterprise lies in the fact that he does not need to be integrated into production processes, and in the fact that he has learned to independently replenish his knowledge in accordance with life-long learning trends.
The benefits and advantages of workers who have mastered the WBL programme, and who, as a rule, become catalysts for the growth of companies, are many times greater than any of the most prominent graduates of traditional university programmes.