The Challenge of Work Based Learning: A Role for Academic Mentors?

May. 01, 2014

Source: International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 3, No. 2, 2014, p. 170-158.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article examines the three perspectives of employers, academics and employees during work based learning (WBL) programmes at undergraduate level.

This research employs an individual case study methodology.
This case study involves a large multinational organisation and a HEI, both of which are based in Ireland. Interviews were used to explore the outcome(s) of a WBL programme.


The findings suggest that participants mentioned several characteristics which influence on the partnership's success.
All the respondents mentioned the importance of trust.
The additional contribution of the academics acting as mentors has the potential to build trust and assure the employer that the academic is making a meaningful contribution.
Furthermore, cultural differences were also reported by all the interviewees.
The exchange of cultural values can be facilitated by the one-on-one nature of the relationship between an academic mentor and the employees.
The academic by working one-to-one with employees will better understand the nuances of the work environment and the organisational culture.
The employers believe that the HEIs should ensure that the academics responsible for delivering modules on the programme have a good insight into the culture, functions and workings of the host employer.
The respondents in this case study suggest that HEIs predominately focus their efforts on education while employers seem to be more concerned with training.

In addition, all the respondents emphasised the importance of communication.
Academic mentors working directly with employees can help to improve the flow and timing of feedback between stakeholders.
Furthermore, respondents suggest that communications between the employer and the HEI should not just be confined to issues relating to the WBL programme.
Similarly, the HEI should promote the employer as a good place to work for their graduates.
Finally, both the employers and the academics stressed the importance of collaboration in programme design.
Specifically, the academics should work to link programme outcomes to work-based actions. As mentors the academics can closely scrutinize how their academic toolkit is being applied in the workplace.
This will facilitate the identification of problems and successes.

In addition, a significant number of the employers and the academics emphasised the need to utilise virtual learning tools when delivering WBL programmes.
The use of social media and on-line communication tools can help to create linkages both between the employees but also between the employees and the academics.
Several employers stated that they require WBL programmes that cause minimum disruption to the employees’ working day and that the use of e-learning tools can help.


This article makes a contribution to scholarly debate on WBL programmes by providing insights from the three participant groups (employers, academics and employees).
The success of WBL can be linked to the relationships that form between employers, employees and academics.
By mentoring the employee the academic can build trust and assure the alignment of the employees’ expectation with the delivery and outcomes of WBL.
Furthermore, the additional insights gained through the mentoring relationship will better position the academic to engage with employers in the design and delivery of purposeful WBL.
The challenges associated with WBL place demands on the design and delivery of curriculum, pedagogy and accreditation.
Academic mentoring can be successfully incorporated into WBL programmes.

Updated: Sep. 16, 2015