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The Institute for Work Based Learning: A Partnership Approach to Learning in the Workplace

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In Northen London, Middlesex University recognises that learning happens both in an academic institution and in the workplace. Therefore, they established in 2007 the Institute for Work Based Learning (IWBL). The institute primarily designs and manages work based learning (WBL) programmes that provide opportunities to working professionals to gain higher education degree qualifications. These qualifications come with formal recognition and academic credits for the learning that occurs in the workplace.

The main motivation for companies to invest in any WBL programme is to yield tangible business benefits. These companies endorse the development of their staff’s capability for reflective thinking, innovation and development to enhance practice and improve productivity. Thus, they aim to provide an incentive for crucial staff to develop themselves, achieve university recognition and contribute to the success of the company. The organisations that work with IWBL to co-design programmes commonly see value in professionalising their workforce or industry sector, raising their profile and credibility through university recognition.

Wide array of educational offerings

IWBL offers the most comprehensive range of professional practice qualifications in England with the three activities: Accreditation of experiential learning, delivery of accredited professional development courses, and designing degree programs with external stakeholders.

There is a large amount of professionals that in spite of their knowledge, skills and practical experience do not have a higher education qualification. If their knowledge and skills are comparable to higher education level, then Middlesex University can recognise their experiential learning towards the award of academic credit that can contribute to the achievement of a degree.

IWBL offers intensive short courses and workshops to external organisations in personal and professional development, in the topics that include change management, marketing, customer service, sales, project management, finance, team building, presentation skills, decision making, and negotiation skills. They are designed to stimulate staff morale and improve the organisational performance. In some cases, these courses are delivered by Middlesex University academics and their external consultants alone; however, they can also include their own organisational trainers to deliver different relevant content.

Middlesex University designs higher-level programmes that satisfy academic criteria and meet professional and organisational goals. The award, from a university certificate to a doctorate degree, depends on the learning level, credit volume, prior experience and learning and the outcomes of project work undertaken. IWBL has a flexible and student-centred approach to learning, so all awards are rooted in the professional practice or workplace activity of the candidate and their practice is placed at the centre of inquiry. The programmes are individually or cohort negotiated. As an example to this cooperation model, Middlesex University has partnered with Aviation Training Organisations and aviation employers to design the BSc (Hons) Professional Aviation Pilot Practice degree. This innovative programme fully integrates the Civil Aviation Authority professional pilot theoretical and practical training, into the degree modules and has resulted in a 98-100% employment record for students.

Flexible structures and quality of partnerships as key factors to success

The success of IWBL is based on a large amount of factors, however, the most prominent ones refer to the structure and quality of the courses it offers, partnership approach it adopts, and the strong institutional profile it exhibits.

When looked in more detail, the flexibility IWBL offers with its course design distinguishes it from its counterparts. One module can be taken as a stand-alone short course, wrapped into an inhouse programme or taken as part of a Bachelors, Masters or Doctoral degree. The institute ensures transparency by implementing clear processes for accreditation and the award of credit. The courses are personalised, with an ability to meet the need of employers and organisations. Furthermore, IWBL integrates critical thinking, based on practitioner inquiry, reflective and reflexive learning approaches to its programmes, which increase their credibility and quality.

In addition to the flexible learning structures, IWBL gives particular importance to partner selection. The institute has collaborated with some of the biggest and best-known organisations in the UK. Large amount of stakeholders of IWBL are efficiently managed through a partnership approach. This is helped by the IWBL’s ability to speak the industrial and academic ‘languages’ and their negotiation skills.

Institutional WBL profile of the institute is another strong success factor, particularly in the streams of research, and interest in facilitating international cooperation. The IWBL staff in their double role of practitioners and researchers have a unique and solid approach over the curriculum design and programme evaluation. IBWL supports five international offices with their international recruitment of companies who are interested in working with them. Besides these, recognition and reputation of the university is well acknowledged, which brings Middlesex to the forefront  as a market leader in organisational development.

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