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Title WEX21C
Work experience as an education and training strategy: New approaches for the 21st century
Aspect
Concept Trends Findings Practice Challenge
Synopsis  Studies of work experience have perpetuated the idea that the work contexts within which work experience takes place are stable, unchanging, transparent environments in which students can easily learn and develop. The project has therefore addressed the concept of ‘context’ as the starting point for considering learning through work experience, arguing that any analysis of work experience should take account of, first, different types of context (eg, education and work – whether knowledge ‘rich’ or ‘poor’), different strategies within contexts and the influence of context on the process of learning; second, the extent to which students have to learn how to ‘negotiate’ their learning during work experience; and, third, the extent to which students must be supported to relate formal and informal learning, given that knowledge is unevenly distributed in workplaces. 

On the basis of this analysis a typology of five models (described as traditional, experiential, generic, work process and connective) of work experience has been developed. The connective model may provide the basis for a more productive and useful relationship between formal and informal learning since it addresses how work experience can enable students to take explicit account of the learning which occurs within and between the different contexts of education and work. The term 'connectivity' defines the purpose of the pedagogic approach which would be required in order to take explicit account of the vertical and horizontal development of learners. 
The ‘connective model’ is further associated with a new, analytical framework which explicitly provides a ‘situated’ perspective on the relationship between work experience, innovation and quality

The implications of this re-conceptualisation of work experience are evident in relation to the question of the ‘transfer of learning’. The concept of transfer has traditionally rested upon the idea that learning simply consists of acquiring knowledge and skill in one context (a workplace) and reapplying it in another (another workplace). The main problem with this conception of skill and transfer is that it neglects the influence of context, resources and people upon the process of learning. Once workplaces are viewed as ‘activity systems’, with their own divisions of labour, rules and procedures, it is possible to replace the notion of ‘transferability’ with the concept of ‘boundary crossing’. This reflects the recognition that students engage successfully in different tasks and in different contexts by demonstrating ‘polycontextual skills’ (Griffiths et al. 2001, pp. 4-6, 53). 

Reference The final project report (Griffiths et al. 2001) provides a detailed elaboration of conceptual issues related to work experience.
See also project info on WEX21C.
Descriptors D-WBL  EP09          E11a
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Editor: Sabine Manning  © WIFO