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Work-based learning represents a novel approach to meeting labor force needs in health care as well as in other fields. It harnesses the untapped potential for instruction and skill development inherent in the job itself, using job tasks and responsibilities to teach both clinical and academic skills. And it changes the way instruction is delivered, with the goal of making it more effective for and accessible to workers and more efficient for employers.

In Jobs to Careers, the promise of work-based learning is to improve employee performance and, ultimately, the quality of care by enhancing the ability of frontline workers to apply the content knowledge inherent in tending to patient and client needs. Better-skilled, better-educated caregivers commit fewer errors and understand why they carry out certain tasks, not just how to do them. Instead of learning from informal instruction by peers, supplemented by occasional “in service” sessions on required topics, employees learn through formal, competency-based instruction based on real job responsibilities. When tied to career advancement and educational opportunities, work-based learning has the potential to turn dead-end jobs into career opportunities, thereby improving morale and commitment and reducing turnover and disruptions in caregiving.

Work-based learning offers improvements on traditional, classroom-focused learning in the following areas:

  • A more effective learning strategy, by matching the way adults learn, through experience and practice, to promote skills acquisition and critical thinking
  • A more efficient training approach, with learning via job tasks that add value to the organization, during the work day
  • A more productive workforce, by utilizing and rewarding untapped knowledge of workers, improving on “trial and error” learning
  • More accessible learning, by creating opportunities for working adults with education and career obstacles and by reducing seat time in any classroom

Work-based learning differs from traditional instruction in its methods for promoting learning and its theories about the learning process. Work-based learning supplements—but does not replace—traditional classroom learning and experience-based teaching methods, such as on-the-job training, internships or apprenticeships.

Work-based learning draws on a rich tradition of educational theory and practice, including John Dewey’s insights about the importance of learning from experience and practice and later educators’ understanding about the distinctive ways that adults learn. Adults, in particular, learn best when acquiring knowledge they can use—through projects and other collective activities. As self-motivated learners, their need is less for traditional teachers, who transmit content, than for facilitators, who guide the learning process for both individuals and teams.

Work-based learning is particularly effective for frontline health workers. They tend to earn low wages and are in some cases the sole wage earners for their families; paying college tuition or attending college classes outside of work hours can present significant challenges. Work-based learning also benefits nontraditional learners who may be less successful with traditional classroom modes of learning, due to low levels of formal education, limited English proficiency, negative experiences with school, or long gaps in educational experience.

Philadelphia Project: How work-based learning achieves better results
In this video, Cheryl Feldman, 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund, explains why work-based learning and other project innovations have improved education and career outcomes for frontline behavioral health workers:

Work-based learning has the potential to benefit a wide variety of stakeholders in our nation's health care system:

  • For Frontline Workers: Financial rewards; new opportunities for career and skill development and further education; and improved self-confidence and job satisfaction
  • For Health Care Employers: Improved quality of care; reduced costs and  higher productivity; higher worker morale and retention; and direct financial benefits
  • For Organized Labor: Enhanced opportunities for members to improve earnings and skill, while working jointly with employers to promote workplace changes that benefit all sides
  • For Community Colleges and Other Education Partners: Higher enrollment and revenue; improved student outcomes; opportunities to develop new programs and partnerships and initiate institutional reforms
  • For Health Care Consumers: Higher patient satisfaction; increased safety and fewer errors, owing to improved skill and understanding; more professional care, as trained frontline workers fill service gaps; more timely care
For more details on the benefits of work-based learning, visit the Jobs to Careers website.