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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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Learning through work is nothing new in HE

At the outset it is conceded that learning through work has always been recognised in higher education in various ways. The most obvious vocational and professional relationships with the world of work practice at undergraduate level are through placements, apprenticeship, internships, sandwich courses, block release and so on. Postgraduate qualifications such as the Applied MSc., MBA & DBA, Continuing Professional Development courses, graduate diplomas, special purpose awards etc., generally respond to the needs of working life. It is not unusual for work-related elements of programmes to attract significant credits towards an award, often with grading. Nor is it unusual for such work-related elements to have formal arrangements for mentoring and supports in the workplace with academic ‘inspection’ that workplaces are indeed sites of learning.

Partnerships with the world of work are not new either in higher education. Traditional and contemporary arrangements for training of professional practitioners such as in law, accountancy, medicine, in the pharmaceutical industry and the IT industry, are well known. Off-campus and/or in-company delivery are now quite common. Negotiated programmes for the public service, for the defence forces and for public employees generally, are not unusual. All of these have an element of recognition of the significance of learning at, through and from work.

The question, then, is: Is it legitimate to argue that we require a specific paradigm of work-based learning to inform the business of higher education, other than within the context of recognising prior experiential learning (APEL)? It could be argued that mechanisms used to date for recognition of prior learning through work have centred more on making experiential recognisable within the traditional paradigm of learning in higher education rather than within its own paradigm. It could also be argued that the use of learning outcomes has had limited value in APEL since the construction of those outcomes is informed by a traditional learning and teaching paradigm, and factors out any learning that is not articulated in those pre-scribed learning outcomes! This paper, then, tentatively suggests that there is an obvious relationship between the concepts, theories and practices of work-based learning and those of APEL since both ‘recognise’ the legitimacy of working life as a locus of legitimate, higher level learning in its own right. They represent an emerging paradigm, or worldview, that higher education needs to seriously consider if it is to further extend its relationships with working life in a more philosophically empathic manner.

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