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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:

  • Placement in a real workplace. Work-based learning takes place in the industry, not within the school, providing authentic career exposure and supporting entry and advancement in a career track. This requires strong partnerships with industries and other community stakeholders. 
  • Meaningful job tasks that build real-world skills. WBL builds technical and employability knowledge and skills while reinforcing academic content and promoting higher-order thinking skills. 
  • Connection of workplace and classroom. WBL should draw clear connections between student experience in the workplace and classroom instruction. This can include integration of curriculum and real-world scenarios, and alignment of workplace learning opportunities and objectives with standards. 
  • Student choice and voice. WBL opportunities and pathways should be connected to students’ interests and goals. Students should have choice in how and where they progress. In order for students to understand fit and make informed decisions, they will need exposure to various careers and different work settings.
  • Mentorship and network building. Many WBL programs include a mentorship program or other opportunities to connect with professionals in the field. These connections enable students to receive feedback on their  performance and allow students to build relationships with those in their chosen industry, which increases their social capital. 
  • Authentic assessment of learning. Student learning is assessed and documented, with active input from the employer. The school and workplace collaborate to identify adaptable, industry-aligned skills and how they will be measured. 
  • Compensation and incentives. Some WBL models offer paid work opportunities with wages provided either through the workplace, the school, or a combination of the two. Others offer incentives such as school credit, college credit, or career certifications that expand future options. 

All of this takes strong partnership and coordination between school and workplace, as well as comprehensive support to help students navigate career options.

What Makes This Innovative?


WBL provides learners opportunities to deepen their learning and demonstrate their skills in authentic settings.

Anytime, Anywhere Learning

WBL takes learning beyond the four walls of the classroom into the community. Students learn from and are mentored by industry professionals.

High Expectations with Unlimited Opportunities

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 Exchange

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.

Grades K-12

Big Picture Learning

The Big Picture Learning school design activates deeper student engagement in learning by using interest-driven, real-world contexts as its pedagogical foundation.

Grades 9-14

Build UP

​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.

Grades 9-12
Blue Valley School District

CAPS Network

The CAPS model provides real-world, profession-based learning opportunities through collaborations with business and community partners to prepare students for college and career.

Grades 11-12
Brooklyn STEAM Center

Career & Technical Education

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.

Grades 11-12
Opportunity College

Learn and Earn Internship

The Learn and Earn Internship program accelerates students’ college and career readiness through paid internships and aligned professional skills seminars.

Grades 9-12

NAF Career Academies

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.

Grades 9-14


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.

Grades 9-12
Empower Schools

Rural Collaborative

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.

Grades 8-12

Studio Learning

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.

Resources from Transcend and Beyond

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.

About Work-Based Learning
Jobs for the Future

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 Resources
CAPS Network

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.

Chi-Rise Postsecondary Preparation Blueprint

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.

Drivers of Postsecondary Readiness

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.

High-Quality CTE: Work-Based Learning
ACTE (Association for Career & Technical Education)

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.

Big Picture Learning

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.

Work-based Learning Ecosystems
Getting Smart and GPS Education Partners

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.