Work-based learning, in particular where it relates to higher education, seeks to marry both the theory with the practice to produce knowledgeable and capable practitioners. This is done because we need proactive practitioners who are able to tackle problems and create new practices and knowledge.

According to Which? (Sharp 2017), graduates that have experience and transferable skills such as team working, good communications, initiative and enterprise, ability to apply knowledge, creative problem-solving and adaptability, are more sought after by employers.

These graduates stand out because they have done some work, or volunteering through which they can show evidence of having gained or practised these skills. Working learners therefore have the benefit of being in an ideal situation to have and to gain the necessary experience to support their development.

Before I go any further, I want to apologise for shamelessly appropriating a phrase used by learner black cab drivers of London for the process of learning how to navigate through the city’s maze of roads. However, what they do serves as a way of thinking about learning that leads to capability.

Black cab drivers have to sit an exam in order to get their licence. You may have seen guys riding around on mopeds with a clipboard attached to the front. What they are doing is following routes from A to B (and perhaps even more complicated) to learn the most efficient way of making the journey.

Now, this could, of course, all be done in theory. The learner could trace the route on an A to Z and then memorise the roads ready for the exam. However, they don’t do that. They make the journey – hence the name for the process – ‘doing the knowledge’.

I have asked a few cab drivers why they actually do it and their answers range from – ‘it’s what the assessors tell you to do’, through ‘doing it helps you remember’, to ‘doing it actually helps you to experience the route and the difficulties it presents in real life’ (i.e. typical traffic, restrictions, parking from dropping off, difficult turnings and alternative ways).

I suspect that all of the reasons are valid, but in any case, what you get is an experienced and knowledgeable London navigator who can do so even when the satnav breaks down or throws a wobble!

Work-based learning programmes therefore seek to capitalise on the learner’s position in work and enables them to use their practices and real-life work needs as the focus, the drive and the outcome of learning.

Like the black cab driver, their work provides the need for learning, and the situation in which the learning can be put into practice, tested and continuously developed. The learner not only has a  mind full of directly relevant knowledge, but the ability to apply it to problems and practices.

In addition, the learner is able to test this knowledge and adapt it in creative ways that not only develops them as a practitioner but also improves the activities and outcomes of the organisation. They can gather theory when needed and respond to changing circumstances.

Through experiences in addition to the more traditional aspect of learning, they will develop great interpersonal skills and leadership, adaptability and problem solving, spearheading real-life circumstances whilst simultaneously driving the aims of the business forward. Effective employees mean an effective organisation.

Therefore if you are in work or are an employer, then work-based learning could be a great way of combining higher education learning with experience to improve capability and develop professionally.

From the learner’s point of view, it can be:

  • Motivating because of the direct relevance and application to practice;
  • Owned in terms of negotiating learning around their professional development and interests;
  • Flexible in terms of time and by combining work and study;
  • Evidence of a commitment to their work and role;
  • Helpful towards career progression.

For the employer, it can:

  • Benefit the business through staff undertaking real work projects;
  • Boost staff retention and loyalty by ensuring they feel valued, invested in and more closely involved in the organisational processes;
  • Produce a motivated workforce focused on organisational aims and problem-solving;
  • Attract recruits to the organisation;
  • Offer opportunism for the employer to develop learning programmes that benefits both the worker and the business;
  • Effect positive organisational change through small-scale developments;
  • Address business plans.

So, like the black cab driver, experiential learning can get you there, both in terms of knowledge and implementation. It taps into the employer or the workforces’ natural motivation to learn relevant skills that can lead to success. It makes learning deeper through not only acquiring new skills but also boosting experience and allows the constant evaluation of how that is done.

If you want to know more about work-based learning

If you are interested in doing a degree in work-based learning, you can find details of GSM London’s undergraduate programme here:  and the postgraduate programme here:

If you want to know how you might make your employees more capable through Higher Education Work-Based Learning, then contact Andy Gould at



Harvey, L., Moon, S. & Geall, V. (1997). Graduates Work: Organisational Change and Students’ Attributes. Birmingham: Centre for Research into Quality (CRQ) and Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR).

Sharp, G. (2017) What do employers look for in graduates? [Online}. Available at: Accessed: 24/02/2017