Work-Based Learning in the United Kingdom: What We Know of Practice and an Example – The WBL Module and WBIS Program at the University of Chester

Work-Based Learning in the United Kingdom: What We Know of Practice and an Example – The WBL Module and WBIS Program at the University of Chester

Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 25
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6977-0.ch011
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The term work-based learning has been widely used in higher education in the UK since the 1990s, and there is evidence of a spread in practice. However, it is not recognized as a subject by the UK Higher Education Statistics Authority so that the extent of practice is unknown. A small unpublished survey sheds some light on the varieties and extent of practice in England and Wales, identifying five different approaches. Different pedagogical practices can exist within single universities, and most of the chapter outlines how the University of Chester incorporates two practices. Its work-based learning (WBL) module is available for all full-time second-year undergraduates regardless of discipline. Its purpose is to enable all students of the university the opportunity to gain real-world workplace experience and sensitize them to the requirements of experiential and lifelong learning. By contrast the work-based and integrative studies (WBIS) is an example of a fully negotiated whole program designed to facilitate the development of practice for those already working.
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‘Work based learning’ has wide currency as a term in UK education, both in universities and sub-degree vocational colleges. This chapter concentrates upon its use and application in universities and in particular a case study of the WBIS program at the University of Chester. Although the term itself is widely used to describe courses and modules it is not a ‘subject’ as recognised by the Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA) so there is standard definition as to what the term means and no data on how many students are engaged in it. Casual observation confirms it is predominantly located in teaching intensive universities with rather less in those whose institutional mission is directed towards research. It also appears to be located in particular vocational disciplines such as health and engineering. A number of universities, including Chester have non-disciplinary Work based learning centers or units. Estimating the number of students who are engaged in something which might be called Work based learning is fraught but it would appear the numbers are rising.

The origins of practice can be traced back to the late 1960s and early 1970s when there were the first attempts to introduce whole program learning by contracts. The earliest example of such a program in the UK is the Independent Study program developed in the former North East London Polytechnic from 1974 (O’Reilly 1989). The program was conceived as being as being cross curricular and cross faculty. Students negotiated their award rather than choosing from a pre-set list of modules. The program also pioneered the use of short awards and ran successfully for a number of years especially with mature, adult learners so that by the end of the 1980s it accounted for 10% of the entire student body. The learning contract entered into by students began with a consideration of past learning as the basis for making a claim for academic credit, a review of current learning, a consideration as to what the student wished to learn, followed by how they would achieve this, what was needed in terms of resources and how the student would demonstrate they had achieved their aims. The proposed contract was then scrutinised by a team of tutors and a personal academic tutor allocated (O’Reilly 1989, p. 48). The other element established in the programme was to make ‘critical reflection an explicit element of the learning process’ (p. 50). Although attracting the program was criticised in an external government report in 1990 and administrative problems led to its closure. Many of the practices pioneered at North London Polytechnic were incorporated into the Work Based Learning framework by Middlesex University in 1995, which remains a leading provider and a template for other institutions (Portwood & Garnett, 2000; Lester & Costley, 2010).

In contrast to the framework at North London Polytechnic the frameworks developed for Work based learning at Middlesex and other universities is not constrained by the requirement to utilise subject discipline modules. Instead the negotiated curriculum is determined by the needs of the workplace which are practice based and hence trans-disciplinary (Nixon, Smith, Stafford, & Camm, 2006). Such curricula are referred to ‘shell frameworks’, since they do not presuppose a subject discipline but instead enable the student to negotiate content (Talbot, 2017a). At one level, this is part of a broader objective which aims to engage an increasing section of the population in continuing lifelong learning – that is, continuing formal learning through-out a person’s life rather than ending at some predetermined point (Field, 2006). The development of work based learning programmes for adults also reflects a deeper understanding of the ways in which learning occurs in the workplace (Malloch, Cairns, Evans & O’Connor, 2013; Illeris, 2011), and an attempt to extend the mission of universities beyond the traditional teaching of full-time undergraduates and carrying out research. In order to meet the learning needs of adults, many of the fundamental assumptions of traditional education and delivery models have had to be rethought. These include assumptions about the nature of knowledge and the mechanisms for learning. In addition to these academic issues have come a series of institutional, administrative and cultural challenge as are outlined in the example of Chester.

Key Terms in this Chapter

NELA (Negotiated Experiential Learning Agreement): Agreement between PAT and student as to the content and nature of a negotiated experiential learning module (NELM). A template is adapted indicating learning outcomes, focus, timescale, resources, and so on.

Work-Related Learning: Term used to describe learning relevant to workplace practice that may not be experiential or focused on application.

Shell Framework: Term used to describe a validated WBL program that enables learners to negotiate awards within a framework, without the need for further revalidation.

WAP (WBIS Approval Panel): University panel that meets regularly to assess the academic validity of pro-posed WBIS modules and specialist pathways within the WBIS framework.

CWRS (Centre for Work Related Studies): Centre within the faculty of business enterprise and lifelong learning for WBIS tutors.

Co-Delivery: A process for accrediting learning in the workplace that involves co-facilitation and co-assessment with tutors otherwise employed in outside organizations, but who are mentored and trained to work with CWRS for these specific purposes.

NELMs (Negotiated Experiential Learning Modules): Modules negotiated between PAT and student that al-lows for new experiential learning. NELMs are typically used to devise transdisciplinary workplace projects and can be either single (10 ECTS credits), double (20 ECTS) or triple (30 ECTS).

PAT (Personal Academic Tutor): WBIS tutor assigned to a student usually on the basis of personal expertise. For example, tutors with a health background are therefore likely to be a PAT for students working in the health sector. In addition to being responsible for welfare, progression, academic development and so on, the PAT also facilitates the Self-Review module, APL claims and NELMs.

ASLA (Approved Studies Learning Agreement): Learning contract and registration document combined, completed by students at the beginning of their studies on WBIS. The ASLA indicates their intended award title and planned program of studies along with completion dates. ASLAs are negotiated between individual stu-dents and their personal academic tutor (PAT) and then scrutinized by all WBIS tutors before being passed for registration purposes.

APL (Accreditation of Prior Learning): Use of accumulated academic credit for incorporation into a newly negotiated award. The maximum allowable APL on a named Chester award is two-thirds of the total credit.

Quality Assurance Agency: U.K. national body responsible for assuring the quality of higher education in the U.K. The QAA promotes good practice as well as carries out institutional inspections.

Learning From Experience Trust: Charitable foundation dedicated to facilitating the development and use of experiential learning. The trust was instrumental to establishing the changes in pedagogic practice that led to the creation of WBIS.

Higher Education Statistics Authority: UK government agency responsible for collating and publishing data on higher education.

External Examiners: Formal practice in U.K. universities for independently verifying quality assurance on all university programs of learning by means of the appointment of an independent academic as scrutineer and critical friend.

Work-based learning: Term usually used to denote formally accredited experiential learning in the workplace with the emphasis on doing as an outcome.

APEL (Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning): A type of APL awarded on the basis of the demonstration of significant and appropriate learning from experience. The learning should be based upon significant and demonstrable professional practice given currency by means of reflective analysis, informed by relevant academic literature.

APCL (Accreditation of Prior Certificated Learning): A type of APL awarded on the basis that the student possesses credit from a prior award that is cognate with the planned WBIS program of study and award title. The prior award must be from an institution or organization of standing and the credit must be current – awarded within the past five years.

Higher Education Academy: U.K. body dedicated to improving the quality of teaching and learning in universities. WBIS tutors are all fellows of the HEA and participate in the specialist employer engagement network.

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