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A Personal Perspective on the Structure of Post-graduate Work-based Learning Programme at an English University

Claire Raistrick
University of Warwick, Coventry, Warwickshire, United Kingdom


This paper critiques a work-based learning (WBL) programme at an English university. This post-graduate diploma for regulatory professionals is enacted via a tri-partite arrangement between learners, their public-sector employer and the university. Prompted by my need, in a new role, to understand more about WBL I explore the literature surrounding WBL, in particular the complexities of the inter-relationships between acquisition of academic knowledge and practical learning. What is the source of knowledge, how is it obtained and who holds it are fundamental questions. I find that WBL is aligned with a social constructionist epistemology whereby knowledge is built-up by the practitioner through exposure to practice; however, discipline-based propositional knowledge is still vital as a basis for the development of practical knowledge. In considering the programme's practices I acknowledge my perspective as a module leader and highlight elements contrasting with a constructionist epistemology. I address questions that include whether WBL is fully employed and might use of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) be beneficial. The dichotomous nature of knowledge is discussed as is recently upgraded thinking on ‘Mode 2' knowledge, and the concept of learning as social participation. The epistemology of practice is framed and I show how knowledge becomes coherent only through practice. I question whether this programme's concept of WBL is sufficiently well-defined and identify two areas where change might be explored: firstly, the two controlling actors might consider involving learners more explicitly and, secondly, closer alignment to the principles of WBL is suggested. Allowing learners to steer, and using technology to support learning, perhaps via a virtual community of practice may be found to be worthwhile. Such use of TEL should incorporate the ontological considerations illustrated in this paper: namely, co-construction of learning and foregrounding the contextualised creation of individuals' knowledges by blending propositional with practical knowledge. Lewin's (1951) field theory may be helpful in facilitating change. Equally, Parchoma's (2006) consideration of potential forces which may drive or restrain adoption of e-learning may be useful to reveal the mix of forces operating in this programme's situated context. The complexity and messiness of establishing a WBL programme is evident and reflection, by the university and partner organisation, is advocated.

Full Paper - .pdf




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