What is Work-based Learning?

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Work-based learning, or WBL, means different things to different people.


Whilst encompassing a broad range of activities and activity types, however, it is accepted that each has a similar goal that centres on ‘the acquisition of knowledge, skills and competences through action-based or reflective learning in a vocational or occupational context’.

Terms might differ (for example, workplace learning, practice-based learning, work-centred learning) yet, in the context of the current Toolkit, we consider all such learning activities under the single heading of work-based learning.


From a strategic perspective, the provision of high-quality work-based learning lies at the heart of current education and training policy, with education-industry collaboration regularly prioritised (at national and European levels) and work-based learning increasingly recognised as a means of ensuring that learners of all ages are provided with the knowledge, skills and competences required by a future labour market.


In terms of delivery, work-based learning can take place onsite, in a company or organisation, or within a more traditional learning environment such as a classroom or training centre, the latter targeting learning that is vocationally or occupationally relevant and which centres on meeting the needs or expectations of a particular industry or profession.

Noteworthy is the fact that work-based learning extends across all areas of education, training and employment and can include:

  • pupils in primary and secondary education undertaking work-oriented projects (or visits) that involve local companies or industries;
  • vocational students undertaking a period of work-practice or work experience as a part of their training course or programme;
  • apprentices aligning the day to day requirements of their job with related learning theory;
  • higher education students complementing learning theory with an understanding of labour market expectations, often through project-based or work-oriented learning activities;
  • adult learners within (or looking to enter) the labour market, taking part in continuous learning and skills development activities with a view to improving their employment or career progression prospects;
  • young people and adults gaining occupational and soft skills through undertaking (formal or informal) voluntary work or voluntary activity in a workplace or work environment.

In this respect, work-based learning can form part of initial education and training programmes, at all levels, or can be a part of a programme or continuing education and training, the latter allowing for the upskilling of staff and supporting personal and professional development and career progression.


To ensure successful delivery, work-based learning involves a wide variety of actors, ranging from those employed in more traditional learning environments such as schools, colleges, Universities and training centres (teachers; trainers; tutors; classroom assistants) to managers and others in the workplace (human resources personnel; individual staff taking the role of mentors or advisors).


Further reading


Rethinking Education: Investing in skills for better socio-economic outcomes (European Commission, 2012)

Download (pdf, 268kB)


Return to Work: Work-based learning and the reintegration of unemployed adults into the labour market (Cedefop, 2013)

Download (pdf, 1.2MB)


Work-based learning in Europe: Practices and Policy Pointers (European Commission, 2013)

Download (pdf, 391kB)


Work-based Learning - Graduating through the Workplace (Education in Employment, 2008)

Download (pdf, 3MB)

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