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The interface between academic knowledge and working knowledge

Implications for curriculum design and pedagogic practice

Author - Dr Anne Murphy



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This paper considers some aspects of the theory and practice of work-based learning (WBL) that may be of interest to academic staff in higher education who have responsibility for negotiating, designing, delivering and assessing programmes for, and with, Irish workplaces, companies, organisations and sectors of the workforce. The paper does not claim to be breaking significant new ground: rather it is trying to connect aspects of the field to inform underpinning of WBL curriculum design and related pedagogic practice as the start of a conversation rather than the last word.

The relationship of contemporary tertiary education to the world of work is now undisputed. Partnerships between vocational education and training/further education (VET/FE) and higher education (HE) providers with statutory bodies, companies, organisations, sectors and groups are now standard practice with academic quality assurance protocols and arrangements in place to ensure the integrity of awards and the standards of learning. Academics are well used to the concepts, theories and practices associated with curriculum design for traditional teaching, and indeed, the practice literature with regard to higher education pedagogies is vast. For the most part, academic staff development programmes related to teaching and learning operate from a paradigm of traditional, classroom-based teaching regardless of preferences for, variations on, or combinations of, behaviourist or constructivist pedagogical design (Davis et al. 2001).The inclusion of ICT-based technologies in teaching methods is energising significant numbers of academic staff and attracting considerable funding. Likewise the move to a learning outcomes approach is stimulating critique and discussion about the nature of learning at all levels. However, this paper argues that these changes operate predominantly within a traditional paradigm of teaching and learning, regardless of promotional rhetoric to the contrary, and that they do not fundamentally consider how adults learn through work, how curricula informed by a knowledge of the complexities of learning through working life could be designed, how learning outcomes can be negotiated and attained through work, and how assessment methods need to be relevant to learning through work. The paper distinguishes clearly between aspects of work-based learning which are integrated into traditional programmes, and programmes which are informed specifically by a paradigm of work-based learning, raising both theoretical and practice aspects of the latter, without privileging one form of teaching and learning above another. The main aim of the paper is to argue that work-based learning requires a different set of concepts, theories and practices in fact a different paradigm within higher education curriculum design and pedagogies.

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