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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 theories underpinning a WBL model

The pedagogical model for a WBL model is generally based on international and national good practice in work-based and work-related learning drawing on contemporary research and scholarship related to the interface between the world of work and the world of academia. It might draw on the scholarship of knowledge production through work and the attendant theories of work-related learning.

In general, WBL locates its theoretical affiliation predominantly within an activist, constructivist and social learning paradigm with an openness to complexity and emergence. WBL programme designers acknowledge the centrality of the transfer and acquisition metaphors in taught programmes and knowingly designed a considerable element of direct teaching at the start of the programme delivery in the form of obligatory modules and optional modules before participants begin their work-based learning individual projects and team project. The theoretical rationale for this design is that a considerable body of knowledge is required to achieve the level of learning assessed for a higher education award. A WBL model takes particular note of the need to integrate an understanding of how knowledge is both constructed and shared in the workplace through both organisational learning models and through individual and collective productive reflection, as illustrated in Table 4 and Table 5 (Boud 1 and Boud 2 after Boud 2004) related to metaphors of work-based learning and to productive reflection:

The paradigm of WBL focuses on action-in-the-world, on connectivity, on complexity, on potential, and is based on the belief that learning changes both the learner and the learner’s environment. It focuses on the agentic power of the learner at both individual and group levels and prefers an andragogical, and even a heutagogical rather than a pedagogical or training model of learning. The WBL paradigm acknowledges the social situatedness, distributive and contextuality of learning and rejects the standard college-based paradigm that learning is an interior act at individual level which can be reproduced and replicated without changing the learner’s environment. In WBL organisation learning is contingent on the situatedness and communal nature of learning with the worker-learner being both influenced by, and influencing, the workplace. The WBL paradigm considers it essential that programme design is practice-centred with learning tasks constructed and emerging from the lived world of work practice enabling co-creation, co-generation and collective ownership of knowledge giving respect to non-formal and informal learning and to tacit knowledge as well as to prescribed learning as described in the curriculum document.

However, WBL programme designers are generally conscious that there are limitations to reliance on unquestioned informal learning theory and limitations to the notion that tacit knowledge can be made explicit for the purposes of assessment and formal recognition. In this regard Eraut (2000) distinguishes clearly among informal, implicit learning and tacit knowledge, and rejects the notion that informal learning is the residual element when formal learning is excluded from the context. He further advises against the use of the term ‘informal’; as it connotes discourses of dress, behaviours and diminution of social differences. Eraut defines personal learning as cognitive reasoning that a person brings to a situation which enables her to think and perform. This includes both implicit knowledge and tacit knowledge, public knowledge and private knowledge. This knowledge, according to Eraut, is not solely individual, but distributed and socially constructed by many people. Eraut categorises informal learning into implicit learning, reactive learning and deliberative learning. He argues, from his empirical research into work-based learning, that there are context factors and learning factors at play. Context factors can enable learning by providing structures, relationships and motivation for learning. Learning factors include challenging work, feedback and self-efficacy. See Figure 4.

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