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What is Work-Based Learning (WBL)?

January 16, 2020

Traditional, theory-based styles of teaching, in which a trainer guides students through a series of topics, is being increasingly supplemented by another method that has proven itself to be effective: work-based learning (WBL).

Work-based learning is an educational method that immerses students in the workplace, prompting them to learn about the environment in which they’ll be working, and to complete typical tasks for the company. It offers real-life, practical work experiences, to better prepare the student for the challenging world of employment—a merging of theory with practice.

We’ll be exploring five of the most common types of WBL, in addition to the benefits and challenges that go along with this style of learning.


Apprenticeships are the archetype of WBL. They forge a path to skilled trade qualifications such as plumbing, carpentry, baking or horticulture. The student spends a large amount of time in the work environment, undergoing practical-based learning to grasp the requirements of the job—swapping books for tools. Full-time apprenticeships typically take four years to complete, and six years for part-time, with roughly 1500 work hours to be logged in total. Every apprenticeship includes a training contract between the apprentice and the employer, which legally binds the two together for the duration of the study. 

Apprenticeships can give students the opportunity to earn an income while completing a qualification, and even include the possibility of time-based or competency-based pay increases during the course3. This type of education is appealing for some students, as you can earn while you learn.

Students undergoing apprenticeships are evaluated regularly to measure their efficacy, with everything reported back to the RTO, to ensure that government compliance is met (ATTD and ASST). If the student dazzles their employer, they may be offered a full-time job when the apprenticeship is complete—the first exciting rung on their chosen career ladder.


Traineeships work similarly to apprenticeships, but with a wider scope of vocational career options that aren’t limited to skilled trades, for example marketing, business, or fitness qualifications. This type of WBL tends to be shorter (1-3 years), with the same number of weekly hours as apprenticeships: 38 hours full-time, and 15 hours part-time.

Structured Work Placement

As with apprentices and traineeships, Structured Work Placements (SWPs, also known as service learning) achieve a specific, accredited competency, but are much shorter, typically lasting between 5-10 days. Aged Care is an industry that typically uses placements, with students being required to complete a 120 hour stint in a nursing home as part of their course. SWP can be mandatory or optional, depending on the selected course.

Professional Development

In the VET industry, professional development is when trainers and teachers maintain their skills, so that they can continue to effectively train students. This is an ASQA requirement, to remain compliant.

Work Experience / Internship

Unlike the above types of WBL, work experience doesn’t result in an accreditation, but focuses on providing the student with real-world experience within a profession. From the learner’s perspective, work experience is a great way to develop their careers, on a paid or unpaid basis.

The lack of accreditation makes things easier for the employer, as it unburdens them from strict compliance laws. It also makes the length of work experience vary greatly, lasting anywhere between a single day to three months.

Work experience and internships can be used by employers to attract fresh talent to their company.


While challenging, WBL can be incredibly beneficial for both the student and employer, which is why more and more RTOs are offering them. They bridge the gap between learning and doing, helping the student to learn more effectively, and completing their education with a greater sense of satisfaction and achievement.


  1. Georgina Atkinson, 2016, “Work-based learning and work-integrated learning: fostering engagement with employers,” National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) 
  2. Fair Work, “Apprentice & trainee pay rates,” Australian Government

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Alternatively, request a demo with one of our friendly sales executives here.

Want to know more about WBL?

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