An Exploration of the Learning Gain of Students Undertaking Negotiated Work-based Learning (WBL) Degrees

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The study reported here aims to explore the work-based learning gain (WBLG) from interaction with HE in the UK. It responds to Costley et al.’s (2010) call for more empirical evidence into the benefit of studying through WBL courses, and Vermunt et al. (2018) “pressing need for theoretical and empirical evidence into learning gains” (p.267).
Results and analysis of data collected through stakeholder questionnaires, interviews and documentary research provide insights into the differing perspectives of WBLG, its value, what influences its attainment and how it can be captured in a meaningful manner for all stakeholders in the WBL process.
This research uses a critical realist lens to look beyond the immediate, into the more hidden aspects of WBL and recognises that several layers of ontology can impact the gain achieved from learning. The findings from this research show an overarching theme of visibility as the prominent gain identified by students and other stakeholders in the learning process. A theme of balancing work, life and learning helps to describe the perception of the learning process. A final underpinning theme of translation supports a deeper understanding of the two key themes of WBLG.
These new insights enabled the creation of a new model of WBLG that conceptualises it as occurring within a learning ecosystem based within the student’s workplace. A new boundary is formed when employees become students and it is within this zone that visible learning can occur through student interactions within time and space and energy to trigger the learning events. WBLG is amplified, and not constrained when the learning ecosystem is healthy and a balance between work, life and learning is maintained. Students learn within the workplace ecosystem where different activity systems can provide opportunities or barriers to WBLG.
The research proposes that stakeholders work towards the health and sustainability of the WBL ecosystem to maximise its growth and balance to support the gain of meaningful learning which has a benefit for all those within the ecosystem. This research has responded to the challenges of finding ways to understand the learning gain from WBL in HE by researching the perceived gains and the elements that influence their attainment in order to support the improvement of practice.
Date of Award8 Jan 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorAyman Nassif (Supervisor) & John Williams (Supervisor)

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