Variation in Conceptions of University Work Based Learning: An Early Years Practitioners’ Perspective
Current trends in global economies and rankings by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have been bringing pressure to bear on Higher Education institutions to develop programmes to meet the global demands for a better qualified workforce. In the United Kingdom this has pointed at work based learning as one approach to up-skilling people that are already in work. This has raised concerns that academic rigour and standards could be compromised and scepticism about the workplace as a place for learning. Many universities are now designing and delivering work based learning programmes but there is still limited evidence of empirical research into work based learners’ experiences on these programmes. The aim of this research was to contribute towards filling this perceived gap. A phenomenographic study was conducted to determine variation in the way university work based learning was conceptualised by a group of Early Years practitioners, a workforce that has been subject to various professional development initiatives by the government in an attempt to improve outcomes for children. With the emphasis on variation, the research approach facilitated the identification of the different ways in which work based learning is perceived by learners, giving insight into a deeper understanding of learning in this context. Six conceptions of work based learning were identified which were comparable to conceptions of learning identified in various traditional university contexts, suggesting that concerns about rigour and standards expressed by some critics of university work based learning could be challenged. The findings also confirmed a number of notional principles of work based learning and theory on adult learning. There was also an indication that further research could provide a better understanding of the workplace as a place for developing knowledge and that universities may not have monopoly over this. This research made a contribution to empirical evidence on how university work based learning is experienced by the learners, suggesting the possibility of work based learning playing a bigger role in providing a university education to people who would otherwise not be able to engage at this level. The Early Years practitioners have been identified as such a workforce. One of the recommendations made was that more research into work based learning could support the development of more innovative ways of delivering higher education programmes to meet the needs of the work market. The findings from this study will become part of the discourse about higher education work based learning and the increasing thinking about the workplace as a legitimate place for generating knowledge.