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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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Scholarship of the WBL paradigm

Emerging international scholarship related to work-based learning ranges over all aspects, though with less emphasis on pedagogies of WBL appropriate for higher education than one might expect. This deficit could, of course, be explained by the tendency to regard WBL as ‘training’ in the vocational training and education or further education sectors. The literature on ‘adult learning’, much valued in higher education, however, does not readily transfer from its marginal, liberal humanism, or critical theory roots, to scaled-up pedagogical practices across all higher education. Thus, it is not surprising that a paradigm of WBL with its own discrete scholarship is emerging across all continents, including aspects of worker/trade union and indigenous knowledges. An indicative table of WBL scholarship and scholars is offered in Table 1 with the caution that it is highly selective to include writers who focus on philosophical and theoretical aspects rather than on specific pedagogical practices.

Emergence of a WBL paradigm in relation to learning theories and attitude to learners

Any paradigm of curriculum and pedagogical design will be underpinned by a philosophical stance with regard to the nature of learning and the appropriate means of teaching, as well as by a specific view of the role of the learner. A WBL paradigm, as illustrated in the timeline overview in Table 2 looks significantly different to a traditional paradigm with regard to the locus of learning. A WBL paradigm will regard the exigencies of work as central to the curriculum and to the level, pace and intent of the learning. While some traditional academics may find this unsettling, it could be argued to be merely an extended articulation of many pedagogical approaches listed earlier, such as apprenticeship, internship, placements, learning contracts. What is significant in WBL and in APEL, though, is the acceptance that all knowledge need not necessarily be codified in the concepts and terminology of the traditional higher education curriculum to be regarded as legitimate for working life.

The interface between WBL and college-knowledge

Ways to clearly and simply articulate the differences between dimensions of what could be described as the ‘college-knowledge’ paradigm and the paradigm of learning through work are now well published in international literature. Widely known ideas of Model 1 and Mode 2 knowledge (Gibbons et al. 1994) are a useful starting point. For the purpose of our discussion here, we could describe Model 1 as the codified knowledge of the academy which is articulated in its curricula, pedagogies, scholarship and awards. This form of knowledge is mostly extrinsic to the knower, with its own academically defined codes. Its acquisition is an individual act aided by teaching of a prescribed curriculum. It is mostly knowledge of and knowledge about for application in a notional context in the future. Model 2, on the other hand, could be described as emerging from collaborative work, codified through work practices and distributed through both work practices and worker activity. It depends to a great extent on workplace affordances and opportunities in real-time. It is mostly knowledge how to, and knowledge why. In may be tacit rather than explicit, with insight a significant factor. The emphasis is on understanding learning as distributed among tasks, people, contexts, time–space and affordances, as illustrated for discussion purposes in Figure 2.

Designing and delivering a curriculum which ‘values’ this kind of distributed and situated learning is challenging for the academic practitioner who may have little freedom to operate outside the traditional paradigm of programme design and quality assurance practices, mindful that any threat to the predominant paradigm may be hotly resisted by internal cultures and professional vested interests (Billett et al. 2006; Boud and Garrick 1999; Brennan and Little 1996; Brennan 2005; Casey 1994; Fenwick 2002).

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