WLE Centre Background

Centre for Excellence in
Work-Based Learning for Education Professionals

The Centre for Excellence in Work-Based Learning for Education Professionals (WLE Centre) at the Institute of Education, a specialist single-faculty institution within the federal University of London, is a HEFCE-funded initiative to encourage excellence and innovation in Higher Education.

The WLE Centreaims to develop new approaches in work-based learning

  1. through facilitating innovations in:
    • learning at work and through professional practice; 
    • teaching and assessment modes for work-related and work-located learning;
    • uses of e-learning and digital technologies.
  2. developing new conceptual and theoretical approaches to work-based learning.

The development of thisresearch and innovation dynamic feeds into the flourishing teaching communityat the Institute, and beyond in its partner institutions, creating synergies,contributing to a better understanding of work-based learning and generatingnew practices in teaching, learning and assessment.

For contact details and directions, please see the Contact section. 

This section provides background information about the work of the WLE Centre. On the following pages, read about:

The WLE Approach

What isdistinctive about the WLE approach to work-based learning?

The WLE works with key partners to transformcurrent models of work-based learning. This responds to the diversity ofprofessional learning needs emerging not only in education, but also in fieldssuch as accountancy, medicine, nursing, pharmaceutics, finance andmanagement.

First, by making connections betweenresearch on work-based learning undertaken in the Institute and elsewhere thatis generating new conceptual and methodological insights about the socialnature of learning in workplaces. 

Second, by making connectionsbetween this research and: (i) the types of programmes which incorporatework-based learning and the non-formal aspects of learning which run througheveryday workplace practices; and (ii) the workplace and wider life/workrelationships and the careers of education professionals.

Third, by evolving new pedagogicstrategies that reflect this development and which will enable learners todevelop a more iterative relationship between theory and practice. This is beingachieved by using theoretical concepts for analysing the constitution ofpractice as well as the problems that arise for professionals in their placesof work, and conceiving of practice as a resource to re-think theory. 

Finally, by firming up understanding about the‘missing issue' in current work-based learning developments, namely the type ofknowledge learnt in the workplace and its relationship to theoreticalknowledge.


TheWLE Centre will disseminate the findings and outcomes from its research anddevelopment work within the UK and internationally to highereducation institutions, employers and other public sector organizations. 

TheCentre will produce a range of reader-friendly publications, academicreports and articles, seminars and a digital repository of learning andteaching materials and research reports.

The WLE Centre is currentlydeveloping a number of innovative accreditation and assessment frameworks,technology-supported pedagogies and a policy guidelines on AP(E)L.

Inaddition to teaching and research activities, the Centre offers a range of
services relating to students, staff and outside bookings. The range ofservices will be considerable and will include the provision of training in theuse of specific software for such purposes as digital editing or recording.

Provision for Students

TheCentre will provide, by appointment, instruction for and guidanceto students enrolled on MA Media Courses in relation to the usage ofediting software, digital cameras and digital sound recording and editing.There will also be the opportunity for Institute students to book themselves into designated slots for computer usage in the allocated areas of the Centre.

Provision for Staff

A rollingprogramme of events concerned with utilising digital and other media inspecific curriculum or pedagogic contexts for specialised work such asediting or image manipulation is available.

Institute Production

TheCentre will also be planning and producing, in collaboration withInstitute academic staff, educational and other materials which demonstrate anevolving awareness of appropriate pedagogies for the digital age, and meet thegeneral and specific aims and objectives of the Centre.

A longer term aim isto make the studio and recording facilities available for outside bookings forprofessional purposes.


TheWLE Centre supports the teaching of the MA media and offers technologicalfacilities and advice to Institute staff and students. 

Someof the current projects being undertaken to support students andteachers are related to the areas of medical education (EdD programme andinterconnection with workplace learning, developing courses for healthcareprofessionals), CPD and widening participation.

For a list of courses offered at the Institute of Education, visit the IoE course database


The Centre is currently engaged in the following areas of research

  • the relationship between theory, pedagogy, and learning;
  • the relationship between work, learning, and professional practice;
  • the relationship between pedagogy, assessment, and learning.
We disseminate our findings through various channels.
Please visit our Publications section.

Transforming models of work-based learning

The WLE Centre incorporates the concepts of work experience and experiential learning in its aims.

Our academics try to resolve a series of  tensions:

  • agency and structure:
    The view that drives learning and that structure (i.e. the organisation of work, the culture of workplaces and so forth) play a secondary role in WbL; and (ii) the aim of learning should be for personal rather than for organisational reasons; 
  • identity and culture:
    How far can we focus on curriculum, pedagogic and assessment issues within WbL in isolation from the development of personal and professional identity and without reference to the types of workplace cultures which facilitate engagement with the relation between theory and practice;
  • accreditation and skill development:
    How far can we focus on WbL as being concerned with providing evidence of some kind for either accreditation in an academic programme or as a resource for discussion in academic contexts as opposed to being concerned with skill development to facilitate organisational development;
  • formal and informal learning:
    How far these terms which refer to thesite and mode of learning and which therefore have little to say about the trajectory of learning help us to identify the type of knowledge and skill developed through WbL;
  • professional and vocational education:
    In what ways, if any, is WbL different from them.

In order toachieve the WLE aims, connections are made:

  • between the types of programmes which incorporate work-based learning and the non-formal aspects of learning which run through everyday workplace practices;
  • between the workplace, wider life/work relationships and the careers of education professionals;
  • between theoretical frameworks which can contribute to a better understanding of the social nature of the workplace;
  • between theory and practice by understanding practice as a resource to re-think theory.

See also:

Work-Based Learning: the concept

Explained byDr. David Guile

Background to Work-Based Learning

Work-basedlearning entered the higher education lexicon as a result of the work sponsoredby the Employment Department (ED) through the Enterprise in Higher Education Programme inthe late 1980s and early 1990s. The ED defined work-based learning as:

The effective learning that can take place at the workplace, and not only in the formal academic setting of the lecture theatre and laboratory, and help individuals to learn through the experience of work itself (ED 1992).

This definitionintroduced into higher education what was widely perceived at the time to be acontroversial idea namely that: ‘all work-based learning is valid andcreditworthy' and that its value could be assessed ‘in terms which allowed itto be integrated, and possibly accredited with academic programmes' (ED 1992).This was a clear departure from conventional higher education thinking and practice.In the main, universities had retained the tradition of separating theory andpractice and rarely offered accreditation for the latter within the structureof degree programmes (Barnett 1994).

In the early tomid 1990s, the debate about work-based learning in higher education was mainlycentred upon two themes. The first theme was concerned with the potential andlimitations of the National Council for Vocational Qualification's (NCVQ)concept of competence. The second theme concentrated on operational issues, inparticular, the development of appropriate methods for establishingcomparability and equivalence between academic and work-based learning. Oneoutcome of these debates was that some universities offered academicaccreditation for NVQ awards within their degree programmes while otheruniversities developed innovative work-based learning degree programmes inpartnerships with employers and professional associations (Winter and Maisch1996).

It becameapparent from the mid 1990s onwards that the original definitions of work-basedlearning were far too narrow to embrace either the diversity of the forms oflearning that occurred in the workplace or to address the complex relationshipbetween theory and practice that was a prime concern of professional andvocational education (Evans et al (2002). One notable development was aconcern to move away from the a-theoretical stance associated with the initialwork pioneered by the ED, and to identify theories that are best fittedthe search for better understandings of work-based learning. It is widelyaccepted that these are constructivist and socio-cultural theories. The mainattraction of these theories is that they emphasise the significance of thecontext and environment for learning.

Moreover, theimpact of social changes on all aspects of working life has also helped tosharpen attention on the value of work-based learning, especially with respectto supporting student employability as well as the fostering of lifelonglearning of those at work and hence their future employability.

Taken together,the academic debate about work-based learning, coupled with employers' andprofessional associations' growing interest in work-based learning, haveconsiderably broadened the way that work-based learning has been subsequentlydeveloped in the UK and globally in higher education (Boud and Soloman 2001).Increasingly, the concept of work-based learning has served as a frameworkwithin undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes to foster the combinationand interdependence of theoretical and practical learning.

Next Challenge for Work-basedLearning

Despite thewidespread interest in the academic community to inject a stronger theoreticalorientation into work-based learning, the form that work-based models havetaken (for an early example see, Guile and Young's (1996) 'connective'typology), there are theoretical and practical challenges with many of theapproaches adopted, even though they show considerable potential for firstunderstanding, and then improving, learning.

On the onehand, they recognise that the majority of workplace learning is informal and isbest understood through initially examining the relationship with practicalwork activities; the cultural and social relations of the workplace; and theexperience and social world of the participants. On the other, they highlightthat theory should not be seen as an abstraction from the world or in Schon'sfamous term ‘a high ground'. Rather theory is a way to help learners to gobeyond their immediate context and immediate understandings. In order to useresearch to effect improvements in learning, this conceptualisation needs to beclosely linked to the realities of contrasting and diverse workplaces.

What is missingis any sense of first, how the different strengths of these differentapproaches to work-based learning may intersect to produce betterunderstandings of the process of work-based learning relevant to educationprofessionals. Until this is known, it is difficult to enhance our understandingof the extent to which strategies to increase incentives to learn arethemselves situation-specific or generalisable. Second, what is also missing isany sense of the type of knowledge that is actually learnt in the workplace andits relationship to theoretical knowledge. Until this is known, it is difficultto move beyond the theory/practice divide.


  • Barnett, R. (1994) The Limits of Competence, Buckingham: OU/SRHE Press
  • Boud, D. and Soloman, N (eds) (2001) Work-based Learning: A New Higher Education? Buckingham: OU/SRHE Press
  • Employment Department (1992) Learning Through Work, Sheffield: Employment Department, Higher Education Branch
  • Evans, K. Hodkinson, P. and Unwin, L. (eds) (2002) Working to Learn: Transforming Learning in the Workplace, London: Kogan Page
  • Guile, D. and Young, M. (1996) Further Professional Development and FE teachers: Setting a New Agenda for Work-Based Learning, in I. Woodward (ed) Continuing Professional Development Issues in Design and Delivery, London: Cassell
  • Winter, R. and Maisch, M. (1996) Professional Competence and Higher Education: the ASSET Programme, London: Falmer Press