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Work-based Learning as a Pathway to Competence-based Education

Work-based learning has many aspects, ranging from informal and relatively casual learning to structured apprenticeships and training programmes. The Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training and UNESCO’s International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training have jointly published an anthology that sheds lights on this broad field. Learn more about the book in this blog post from the publisher!

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“This anthology [...] is an example of how—despite the diversity of education systems—future questions of vocational education and training can usefully be discussed at international level.”

Prof. Dr. Friedrich Hubert Esser, President of the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training, BIBB

The phrase “work-based learning” is currently a hot topic. Great expectations are associated with it, as it promises solutions for dealing with new challenges in the world of work caused by digitalisation as well as for dealing with the large number of unemployed young people and low-qualified workers in many countries. Classic initial and continuing education and training formats in educational institutes are not only hardly accessible to many population groups, but also reach their limits in terms of content. Work-based learning that is closely tied to actual working processes could facilitate learning that is more current and flexible and also of greater practical relevance to individual challenges in the learners’ respective area of work.



Work-based learning has many aspects, ranging from informal and relatively casual learning while doing work to structured apprenticeship and training programmes that are sometimes supplemented by seminars in school- or higher education-based contexts.

UNESCO-UNEVOC publication from BIBB

The Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) and UNESCO’s International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training have jointly published an anthology that serves as a guide for research, practice, and policy, and in so doing illuminates this broad field. The publication is aimed primarily at the various member organisations of the global UNEVOC Network, which are involved in implementing the local and regional goals of the UNESCO Strategy for Technical and Vocational Education and Training 2016–2021 (UNESCO's Strategy for Technical and Vocational Education and Training). However, the contents are also of interest to anyone who deals with questions regarding the attractiveness and quality of company-based vocational education and training within the European Union.

On the one hand, the volume contains a wide range of information about how work-based learning can be enhanced and used. For example, because it:

  1. fosters competence-development among learners while also promoting innovation in the work itself;
  2. can be embedded in the curricula of initial and continuing education programmes;
  3. develops into a recognised component of the respective education system and thus improves the long-term viability of the resulting qualifications.

Research results are processed and disseminated in such a way that they are also comprehensible to people who are new to the topic.

On the other hand, the publication also offers practical insights into specific developmental and research work in highly diverse settings. These insights illustrate not only how different the initial conditions are when it comes to fostering work-based learning in the world’s various regions, but also help to see one’s own situation through different eyes and take this as a starting point for pilot projects.

The authors’ contributions introduce analytical tools that have already proven their value in the classification of company-based learning. However, there are also guidelines for unlocking the working processes of skilled workers and the dynamics of peer learning in companies via interviews and surveys.

Structure of the UNESCO-UNEVOC publication

The volume is divided into five major sections. The first part introduces the two concepts of work-based learning and competence-based education. Stephen Billett introduces various analytical perspectives by means of which the workplace can be understood and investigated as an environment for learning. Martin Mulder looks at the origins of the “competence” concept in a global context and summarises the experience to date with the development of competence-based education provision in various contexts.

The next four chapters gather contributions from various parts of the world—ranging from Argentina, Australia, China, Nigeria and Sub-Saharan Africa to the Netherlands, Great Britain, Germany and Singapore—under headings that include:

  • Conducive Factors for Learning on the Level of the Individual Subject and the Work Environment
  • Curriculum Development for Work-based Learning Schemes
  • The Role of Tutors, Fellow Workers and Instructors in Work-based Learning
  • Boundary Crossing: Transfer and Recognition of Knowledge, Skills and Competences

The volume ends by looking at the future prospects of the UNESCO strategic educational goals and the research that is still required in certain areas.

The various contributions illustrate the diversity of perspectives on the topic. Readers who are interested in learning about German, Chinese, Argentinian or Nigerian education systems will find useful information, as will researchers who are looking for new ideas for structuring workplace-based research to support educational staff.

A tool for self-analysis

The publication also offers a critical look at one’s own workplace. Alison Fuller and Lorna Unwin ask the relevant questions:

  1. What is my workplace like as a learning environment?
  2. Are there opportunities for shared reflection, problem-solving and goal-setting within the team?
  3. How much control do I have over the way my work is organised, executed and evaluated?
  4. How much discretion do I have to make decisions and judgements on my own?
  5. How do I continue to develop my expertise at work and to what extent can I call on the support and expertise of colleagues?
  6. To what extent do I have the opportunity to work in a “multi-disciplinary environment”, and learn from colleagues with different areas of expertise and experience?
  7. Does my workplace recognise the value of peer support?
  8. Does my workplace recognise the value of opportunities for learning from beyond this setting e.g. via conference attendance, secondments, study visits etc.

As this short extract demonstrates, the publication is suitable for various purposes—including, for example, as a hand-out in a seminar. As it is an Open Access publication, it is also freely available to large groups of readers. Thanks to its low data size, the PDF file can be downloaded easily from anywhere in the world.

Download the UNESCO-UNEVOC publication on EPALE

We would be delighted to receive feedback from you.

How do you find the book? What articles did you find interesting, and why?

Please tell us a little about the context in which you would like to use this book or have already done so.


Thank you, and good luck with your own projects in the broad field of (continuing) vocational education and training!

Best wishes from Bonn,

Anke Bahl and Agnes Dietzen and


About the authors:

Anke Bahl has worked as a research associate at the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training in Bonn for 18 years. She has been involved in diverse projects on a national and international level and gained great experience at the interface of research, practice, and policy. Her work focuses on the areas of company-based competence development, work-based learning, vocational education and training staff, company recruitment, ethnographic occupational and industry research. Follow Anke Bahl on Twitter @anke_bahl

Dr. Agnes Dietzen is head of the research division “Competence Development” at the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training, Bonn. Her research deals with various issues relating to competence and in-company vocational education and training, including professional competence measurement particularly in the domain of social and communicative competences. In the area of company-based research, her focus is on competence management within companies, initial and continuing education and training, work-based learning, recruitment, and HR development.

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