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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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Implications of the WBL paradigm for curriculum design

Design challenges for the WBL curriculum require the academic practitioner to re-consider the rationale for the traditional curriculum and its many unquestioned assumptions about the validity of a pre-scribed learning outcomes approach, about fundamental constructive alignment of learning, teaching and assessment, about static semesters and rigid timetables, about linear learning, and about static assessment models, as tentatively illustrated in Table 3.

More fundamentally it may question the basis of the codified knowledge of the academy and its preference for disembodied, de-contextualised and abstract curricula that favour forensic and atomistic attention to the minutiae of programme documents. It may instead promote a reasoned consideration of WBL programmes operating within their own paradigm of holistic learning where learning outcomes are broadly defined at the appropriate level in relation to the work context, where the curriculum is integrated and relational, where assessment activities are authentic and negotiated, where the learning tasks are designed as real-world challenges with the appropriate level of theory-in-practice, and where the assessment criteria are negotiable, weighted in relation to the tasks, and fit for purpose.

Working principles for a WBL programme design in higher education

The design of a work-based learning programme will inevitably be influenced by traditional as well as by emerging trends in higher education generally, and trends emerging at the interface of education and industry. In particular it will take cognisance of the growing scholarship related to communities of practices, to work-based learning and to validation of non-formal and informal learning in its curriculum design, its pedagogical approach and in its assessment strategies. A WBL curriculum model generally includes direct teaching and related project work in accordance with the paradigm of transmission/acquisition favoured by traditional third level pedagogies within established levels of learning in national frameworks and within European Qualifications Framework. However, it will also take account of the growing shift towards work-related learning in authentic communities of professional practice, especially at postgraduate level. Those traditional and communities of practice paradigms are briefly illustrated in Figure 3.

A WBL programme design will take particular cognisance of the location of the participants in a context and establish if affordances for informal and non-formal learning are ubiquitous. The importance of non-formal and informal learning in the working lives of adults is central to a WBL paradigm, whereas it is mostly factored out in traditional higher education curricular design.

The underpinning of a WBL programme is likely to be informed by particular models, particular sets of learning theory and particular scholarly literature. For the purpose of this paper it might be legitimate to state six emergent key design principles broadly stated as follows:

Principle 1 The level of learning of the programme achieved by participants should be directly mappable onto the national qualifications framework level descriptor and onto the Bologna Framework Dublin Descriptors of the European Qualifications Framework.

Principle 2 The syllabus content and mode of teaching should enable the acquisition of theoretical underpinnings of work-related elements so that learners will be equipped with sufficiently robust analytical frameworks to critically and reflexively relate their experiences of work-related aspects to the appropriate body of scholarship.

Principle 3 Affordances and supports in the workplace should be sufficient to enable learners to achieve the agreed learning outcomes for the work-related elements in the agreed timespan.

Principle 4 The elements of the programme should be structured so as to meet both the needs of the sponsoring organisation the learning needs of individual participants, and the needs of the providing/awarding body.

Principle 5 Mechanisms to document individual and collective learning should be appropriate to the context, to the intended learning outcomes of the programme and to the potential of learners to demonstrate understanding, insights, skills and competences in relation to the work-based elements and the major project.

Principle 6 Both the provider/awarding body and the partner organisation should respect standard protocols in relation to privacy for the student related to academic achievement and progress.

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