WBL provides learners opportunities to deepen their learning and demonstrate their skills in authentic settings.
Work-based learning (WBL) connects classroom instruction with real-world, professional experiences. In this approach, learning takes place within the context of a workplace, allowing students to apply what they learn in the classroom to a career-based experience. WBL offers students the opportunity to reinforce and deepen their learning, explore future career fields, and demonstrate their skills in an authentic setting. Through WBL, students develop the technical and academic knowledge and skills they need to enter or advance in a particular career field as well as essential skills all employers find valuable, such as communication and time management.
WBL experiences range from those that expose students to different careers with limited workplace involvement (e.g. job shadow) to those where students learn specialized skills for specific industries through spending more time in the workplace (e.g. apprenticeship). Schools with strong WBL typically offer a continuum of experiences that build over time. Opportunities for career exploration should take place before more in-depth and intensive career experiences, so students can learn about a range of potential occupations and workplaces. Schools not yet ready to implement WBL may want to begin by offering Career Awareness opportunities. Through these experiences, students can build foundational knowledge about different career fields without going to a workplace (e.g. Career Fair).
While each WBL model varies, key components include:
All of this takes strong partnership and coordination between school and workplace, as well as comprehensive support to help students navigate career options.
WBL provides learners opportunities to deepen their learning and demonstrate their skills in authentic settings.
WBL takes learning beyond the four walls of the classroom into the community. Students learn from and are mentored by industry professionals.
In WBL, all learners have the opportunity to explore career pathways, gain work experience, and build employability knowledge and skills.
Work-Based Learning Models on The Innovative Models Exchange support students in gaining real work experience and building employability skills but range from career exposure to career experience.
The Big Picture Learning school design activates deeper student engagement in learning by using interest-driven, real-world contexts as its pedagogical foundation.
Big Picture Learning (BPL) was established to challenge traditional approaches to teaching and learning. Big Picture’s focus on student-interest-driven, real-world learning reflects the knowledge that students often learn best when school is relevant to their lives, builds relationships with adult mentors and peers who share their interests, and entails genuinely authentic and rigorous work that is situated in the community and workplace.
The BPL school design is based on three core principles: 1) relationships – schools are designed to support student-centered experiences, one learner at a time; 2) relevance – student interests and real-world learning experiences shape the curriculum; and 3) rigor – assessment criteria for exhibitions of learning are aligned to professional standards. More broadly, 10 Distinguishers serve as BPL’s signature in the world of deeper learning and work-based learning. 10 Distinguishers Relationship Indicators Relevance Indicators Rigor Indicators
BPL works directly with schools to activate the potential of its students. It does not govern or operate schools but instead collaborates to transform existing schools or to establish new schools as a part of the BPL Network. Through collaboration with families and communities, each BPL school seeks to produce learning environments that are unique to local contexts. To support this, BPL offers deep partnerships, stand-alone professional development, and customized support. Today, there are over 80 Big Picture network schools in the United States and more than 100 schools around the world that utilize BPL’s design.
Build UP is an early college workforce development model that enables low-income youth to develop career-ready skills while revitalizing their community and gaining homeownership.
The Build UP model aims to empower and equip youth so they can overcome poverty and determine their own futures all while revitalizing their communities. Over the course of six years (following the 8th grade), students participate in a full-time, year-round program that supplants a traditional high school and college experience. Students spend half of their time in an academic setting, gaining knowledge that’s directly applicable to their paid apprenticeships in the real estate and construction sectors. As apprentices, students also work to rehab blighted, abandoned homes into like-new units.
During the course of the six-year program, students earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in their chosen field, which does not need to be related to construction or real estate. Once students complete the Build UP program and have secured a job, launched an enterprise, or are enrolled at a four-year university, they are also able to take over the deeds to two units they renovated as part of their training. Through zero-interest mortgages, graduates build wealth while also earning passive income through using units as rental properties. This helps build a social and economic safety net for students and the larger community.
Currently, Build UP partners with local Birmingham community organizations to protect historically Black neighborhoods from gentrification. The program is now operating in two neighborhoods: Ensley and Titusville. They offer a range of supports to expand their model through replication, retrofitting, or inspiration.
The CAPS model provides real-world, profession-based learning opportunities through collaborations with business and community partners to prepare students for college and career.
The Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) integrates high school, college, and career into a single seamless community where students can explore pathways while working with professionals on real-world projects. Students fast-forward into their future and are fully immersed in a professional culture by solving real-world problems, using industry standard tools, and being mentored by actual employers, all while receiving high school and college credit. CAPS is an example of how business, community, and public education can partner to produce personalized learning experiences that educate the workforce of tomorrow, especially in high-skill, high-demand jobs. CAPS creates rich and meaningful experiences for students as well as industry and postsecondary partners.
The CAPS model is grounded in its five core values:
The model began in 2009 with the creation of Blue Valley School District’s CAPS in Overland Park, Kansas. CAPS now reaches 170 school districts in 23 states and four countries. Where Students Lead Trailer CAPS Network Storyboard
The Brooklyn STEAM Center is a career and technical education model that immerses high school scholars into industry workplaces where they learn through distinct pathways and real-world, project-based learning experiences.
The Brooklyn STEAM Center is located within the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a robust industry ecosystem with over 400 businesses that span manufacturing, technology, food, fashion, and media. At the STEAM Center, 11th and 12th grade scholars engage in high-quality professional work, develop robust and real industry networks, and explore tangible pathways to economic opportunity within industries such as Construction Technology, Culinary Arts & Hospitality Management, Cybersecurity, Design & Engineering, Film & Media, and Full-Stack Development.
The STEAM Center’s mission is to create a diverse, skilled pipeline for careers within the creative, technology, and manufacturing industries, with a focus on economically stable career pathways. Scholars at STEAM come from a diverse range of demographic and academic backgrounds, including race, socioeconomic status, gender, abilities, and academic performance, to name a few. Participating scholars graduate with technical, professional, career, and financial skills that they can use to create their own futures. The Brooklyn STEAM Center serves 325 high school scholars across 8 schools in Brooklyn, New York.
NAF implements career-focused curricula and work-based learning to prepare students of all backgrounds and capabilities for future success, especially students who may lack access to opportunity.
NAF career academies are structured as small, focused learning communities that fit within and enhance traditional high school settings. NAF brings education, business, and community leaders together to transform the high school experience for students, with a focus on college and career readiness.
NAF career academies are designed so that students have learning experiences that are personalized and connected to their career interests. Students can choose from multiple career pathways in thriving industries as the basis of their program of study and can earn NAFTrack Certification. NAFTrack is a recognition of a student’s experience, career planning journey, and skill mastery as validated by local employer partners.
To support pathways toward college and career readiness, NAF provides rigorous, career-focused curricula using project-based learning that incorporates current industry standards and practices. This allows teachers to expand the curriculum by exposing students to career-focused content in real-world contexts—bringing the workplace to the classroom. NAF provides experiential learning opportunities that expand classroom boundaries by connecting students to both professionals and the workplace. As a result, students acquire the skills they need to be future-ready.
NAF has grown from one NAF Academy of Finance in New York City in 1980 to more than 600 academies across 35 states, plus DC, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands, focusing on growing industries including finance, hospitality and tourism, information technology, engineering, health sciences, and more.
The P-TECH model prepares young people for 21st-century jobs by engaging them in industry-guided workforce development while they are simultaneously enrolled in high school and college coursework.
P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools) was designed to provide youth in under-resourced systems with an innovative education opportunity that is a direct pathway to college attainment and career readiness. It was developed through a public-private partnership with IBM to enable students to earn both a high school diploma and a no-cost, two-year postsecondary degree in a STEM field.
Spanning grades 9-14, P-TECH provides a holistic approach to education and workforce development. Working at their own pace, students complete a combination of high school and college-level coursework to earn both a high school diploma and associate degree. They also participate in a range of workplace experiences such as mentorships, worksite visits, and paid internships. P-TECH’s ultimate goal is to prepare youth for the estimated 16 million “new collar” jobs that will be created in the US economy by 2024. These jobs will require postsecondary degrees, but not necessarily a four-year college degree.
P-TECH has grown to more than 300 schools worldwide with more than 600 large and small companies serving as partners across a range of sectors, including health IT, advanced manufacturing, and energy technology. P-TECH shares extensive information about its model on its website. P-TECH also supports its model with the digital platform IBM SkillsBuild for Students and Educators (formerly Open P-TECH).
The Rural Collaborative model empowers rural communities to forge sustainable partnerships that allow schools to provide students with a variety of robust college and career pathways that lead to success in school and life.
Approximately one in five American students attends a rural school and in most states the majority of districts are considered rural. It can be challenging for small, rural school districts to provide a robust array of college and career options for students on their own as compared to their urban and suburban counterparts. The Rural Collaborative model enables rural communities to come together across various sectors to create innovative and relevant learning opportunities for their students.
By activating collaboration and partnership among geographically proximate school districts, higher education institutions, and industry partners, the Rural Collaborative model increases the value of existing community resources by making them available to more young people. This also helps to build the skilled, regional workforce needed to strengthen the local economy because programs of study are aligned to data about regional workforce needs and projections.
The Rural Collaborative model is currently being implemented in Texas, Colorado, and Indiana across more than 20 school districts, enabling students to earn career-specific certifications and dual credit hours while gaining hands-on experience. The Rural Schools Innovation Zone (RSIZ) in South Texas is an exemplar Rural Collaborative and, as such, worked with Empower Schools and the Texas Education Agency to create a free toolkit to support the design and launch of the model in other regions. Rural Collaboration Toolkit Rural Schools Innovation Zone
NuVu’s studio learning model engages students and teachers in a hands-on, tool-rich environment where they work on complex real-world challenges using creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration.
The centerpiece of the NuVu model is the studio. Inspired by the MIT Media Lab, the NuVu studio is an immersive, interdisciplinary learning experience built around four pillars: innovation, empathy, design, and impact. Each studio is structured by hands-on, real-world projects in a 6:1 student-to-coach ratio that ensures support for students as they work on open-ended problems. To create voice and purpose for students, studio topics always include relevant social issues.
NuVu students work on a single multidisciplinary studio for 3 to 4 weeks rather than attending multiple courses each day. Projects help students deepen their critical thinking skills, express their creativity, learn to collaborate, and develop deep technical skills. All learning in the NuVu model is hands-on, so students spend a lot of time in “the shop,” a multi-faceted fabrication space where students have access to a variety of materials, resources, and tools, both digital and analog. Students also have access to experts who serve as guest coaches and bring rigor to the learning process by providing feedback, provoking new ways of thinking, and encouraging iteration.
NuVu graduates have proven to be prepared to thrive in engineering, art, and design programs at highly selective colleges. As NuVu continues to empower its students with the technical skills to become designers, entrepreneurs, makers and inventors, it has developed NuVuX, an initiative that brings design, creativity and innovation to K-12 schools and organizations around the world. NuVu serves as the epicenter of the growing global NuVuX Partner Network. NuVu Brochure A Day in NuVu
The following resources can deepen your understanding of work-based learning and support the design and implementation of a high-quality model, whether it’s one from The Innovative Models Exchange or one your community designs.
A website on work-based learning that defines and categorizes various work-based learning activities and approaches. It also includes links to more resources on work-based learning, including the benefits, related research reports, and key principles for implementing an effective work-based learning program.
CAPS Network shares resources to help implement a profession-based learning model, including playbook modules that draw on the experiences of CAPS affiliates and community partners to guide others as well as free micro-credentials and a podcast.
This postsecondary preparation blueprint articulates a detailed vision for high school programming (including WBL) that can prepare students for a successful transition to college and careers. While this blueprint was specifically designed with and for the Chi-Rise community in Chicago, it can serve as a starting point for other learning communities.
This primer breaks down the factors that drive postsecondary success and includes a linked toolkit of practices. Each practice includes a short overview, research on the importance of the practice, and examples of various schools engaged in the practice, as well as resources to help you get started.
ACTE’s CTE Library includes key resources to help practitioners achieve a high-quality CTE program. Resources include reports, research studies, toolkits, guides, frameworks, webinars, online courses and more from ACTE and many other respected sources.
ImBlaze enables schools to manage real-world learning. The platform allows schools to curate a set of potential WBL opportunities for students based on their interests. This allows students to experience the power of internships, apprenticeships, community service, CTE Training Programs, Shadow Days, and College Dual Enrollment.
This white paper gives an overview of WBL including the challenges, solutions and existing research. It focuses on the core ecosystem that incorporates the three critical partners in scalable WBL models: employers, community, and schools. Lastly, it shares guidance and recommendations for how to start a WBL program.