While Work-based Learning (WBL) has innumerable benefits, there are also a number of potential barriers or challenges that need to be kept in mind by those developing and delivering WBL, with one or more steps taken to counteract or address these.
Among the more notable barriers or challenges for learners are:
- multiple priorities: where we learners are full or part-time employees yet are also required to attend training onsite at an educational institution, there can sometimes be different learning agendas or priorities presented with individual learners left to decide which is the most relevant or most important.... bringing together teachers, trainers, mentors and/or learning facilitators, to agree on a single set of learning priorities or learning outcomes, can significantly ease this;
personal or family ties: the personal or familial situation of individual learners can play a significant part in facilitating or limiting access to learning... when planning learning activities, particularly those taking place beyond traditional working or training hours and locations, it is important to also consider any other commitments that learners may have including those tied to childcare, health, income or family support;
learning to learn: in some cases, often among those that left education at an early age (or many years ago), there can be one or more psychological barriers to learning, these can be tied to a fear of failure, anxiety about the use of new tools or technologies or concern over being judged by their peers... in all such cases, it is important to put the learner at ease, from the outset, confirming the level and type of learner support that will be provided and advising of expectations, benefits and possible rewards tied to learning achievement.
There are also a number of barriers and challenges tied to those facilitating or delivering learning, and the tools and materials employed for this purpose, among which we might count:
- outdated knowledge and skills: teachers, trainers and mentors play a large role in learning delivery, yet it is important to ensure that all such actors are sufficiently up-to-date in terms of the targeted learning field or topic; without this, there can be conflicting or confusing messages passed to learners and/or differences in the level of knowledge and understanding between the trainer/tutor/mentor and the learner, particularly where there are recent graduates entering the workforce;
- ineffective or outdated learning materials: as workplace and workforce practices change to reflect modern development, production and service-oriented policies and practices, there is an equally important need to ensure that learning materials, tools and platforms are also maintained and modernised; for example, where the latest technologies are used to ensure product quality within local manufacturing environments, it might be possible to teach the related concepts in a classroom-based environment yet there is often a need to align this with some form of practice-oriented learning in which the associated technologies can be accessed and used.
Finally, there can be barriers and challenges tied to the participation of companies, notably:
- securing commitment: it is not always easy to find companies willing to provide learning opportunities, be it for their own employees, or for those undertaking more formal programmes of education and training; in all cases, it is important to confirm the benefits for companies from facilitating or delivering learning (learning provision, learning support, input to formal learning programmes) such as employee progression, staff retention, access to new cohorts of potential employees, reducing skills gaps, etc.
- time and support: the learning culture in a company or organisation can play a large part in determining whether or not learners participate and succeed in their learning goals; companies need to ensure that there is an open commitment to learning at all levels of the company, from management to the shop floor, with those responsible for facilitating learning (human resources staff, trainers, mentors) able to effectively balance their time ensuring targets for skills development are adequately aligned with those tied to corporate growth and product or service delivery.
Having highlighted a number of potential barriers and challenges associated with WBL, it is important to also underline that many of these are easily overcome where sufficient time is given to planning and preparation and where the required commitment is sought and secured from all those involved in WBL development and delivery.