HEI FYI

Work-Based Learning Framework


This is the final post in a brief series on work-based learning opportunities in a virtual environment. For more information, please reach out to us—we’d love to hear from you.

You’ve already established your initial strategies for a virtual WBL offering, and you’ve determined how you’ll ensure the quality of your offering. Now you need a preliminary WBL framework to structure a well-balanced continuum of WBL to provide a path of growth for participants well beyond your initial offering. Again, you can think of WBL as any educational activity comprised of meaningful workplace experiences that facilitate academic, technical, and employability skill development to support entry into or advancement along a career pathway. Individuals of all experience levels seeking to gain authentic career-aligned work experience can benefit from WBL opportunities, including K-12 students, postsecondary learners, young adults, adult jobseekers, and incumbent workers. WBL encompasses a wealth of program models that exist along a continuum that transitions across phases from foundational awareness, to early exposure, to preparatory engagement, and finally to immersive experience. As you move across the WBL spectrum, the length of participation within an activity increases, interactions with employers are more abundant, and the nature of involvement at worksites is deepened; thus time, exposure, and engagement are core differentiating factors of WBL models. The chart below depicts a WBL framework organized along a four-phased continuum, with each phase comprised of models of various types.

  • WBL opportunities within the Awareness Phase are foundational, serving as an introduction to a specific career domain. Though activities of this type do not take place on a worksite, information acquired during these events can spark initial career-related interests within learners and influence decisions to pursue additional opportunities for further career exploration.
  • WBL activities within the Exposure Phase often afford learners opportunities to become acquainted with a career through first-hand experiences in the workplace. These short-term, introductory encounters provide insights relating to an industry or business, including environmental conditions, real-world application of concepts, and professional culture. Exposure activities also provide information about job roles and responsibilities associated with an occupation, thereby aiding in the identification of knowledge and skills required to pursue that career pathway.
  • WBL activities within the Engagement Phase comprise extensive, structured opportunities that allow participants to authentically perform responsibilities required within the workplace. Learners benefit from increased technical knowledge and employability skills development, as well as enriched interactions with industry professionals.
  • WBL models within the Immersion Phase are most comprehensive, where learners participate in long-term work opportunities in an industry or occupation. These learn-while-you-earn positions embed a formal instructional component within the work experience, where learners receive customized hands-on training that often supports attainment of an industry-recognized credential.

Undoubtedly, outcomes attributed to an individual WBL model are strongest across the later phases of the continuum given the depth of the learning experiences; however, overall impacts are most extensive when cumulatively acquired to support early and sustained developmental continuity. While widely applicable across stakeholder groups, this effect is of greatest significance when advancing priorities centering broadened participation and equitable access of opportunities to populations historically underrepresented within the industry’s workforce.