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Work-based learning: A critical challenge to the subject discipline structures and practices of higher education

Jonathan Garnett (Australian Institute of Business, Adelaide, Australia)

Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning

ISSN: 2042-3896

Article publication date: 8 August 2016




The purpose of this paper is to show how transdisciplinarity is woven into the key curriculum components of individually negotiated work-based learning (WBL) programmes and to focus upon the performative value of knowledge in the work context.


This paper draws upon WBL academic literature and the authors 22 years operational experience of WBL.


The paper suggests that while university-level WBL can enhance the performance of organizations and individuals it is also inherently challenging and challenged by the hegemony of subject disciplines and disciplinary-based university structures. WBL is concerned with knowledge which is often unsystematic, socially constructed and is action focused in order to achieve outcomes of significance to work. This contests the supremacy of the role of the university in curriculum design, delivery and validation of knowledge and means that work-based knowledge is often seen as transdisciplinary rather than conforming to traditional subject disciplines (Boud and Solomon, 2001).

Research limitations/implications

Central to the distinctive nature of university WBL programmes is the role of the external organization as a partner with the university and the individual learner in the planning of learning activities which are intended to have significance for the workplace. For individual knowledge to become organizational knowledge, and thus fully contribute to the intellectual capital of the organization, it must be shared and accepted by others. It follows that a key concern for organizations must be the facilitation of the recognition of knowledge and this goes beyond using a transdisciplinary lens when guiding and assessing the work of individual higher education students.

Practical implications

The paper has practical implications for the design and facilitation of WBL programmes at higher education level.


Provides an informed and sustained examination of the concept of WBL and knowledge.



Garnett, J. (2016), "Work-based learning: A critical challenge to the subject discipline structures and practices of higher education", Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Vol. 6 No. 3, pp. 305-314.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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