ACTE & Xello emphasize delivery of real-world experiences through work-based learning

With support from Xello, ACTE launched the second brief in its student career development series, Delivering Real-world Experiences Through Work-based Learning. Kelli Diemer, ACTE’s work-based learning consultant, wrote:

“Comprehensive, high-quality career development includes work-based learning (WBL), including workplace tours, job shadowing, school-based enterprises, internships, and apprenticeships. In addition, WBL is often best defined by a strong partnership between education employer, and a motivated student.

“Today’s work-based learning:

  • “Aligns learning with the CTE program of study outcomes
  • “Serves the student’s interests and goals for developing specific skills and career exploration
  • “Meets a need for an employer who also understands the program’s purpose because they recognize the value for the student”

Foundations of work-based learning

The paper, authored by Diemer, offers career and technical education (CTE) professionals deep insight into the power of WBL. High-quality work-based learning experiences must offer real-world relevance. “A 2008 study found that graduates of applied occupational programs reported applied learning experiences such as WBL as the most helpful in developing work skills (Mean & Gonzalez, 2019, para. 3).”

Students and employers, alike, recognize the value in authentic, purpose-driven learning activities. Consider the General Construction Technology program at West-MEC’s Southwest campus. Program administrators established a partnership with Sutter Masonry. The industry partner supplies professionals to help instruct the students on masonry techniques, dedicating eight weeks of support and all needed supplies.” Sutter also “allows students to job shadow at

various job sites. These opportunities are aligned with the students’ college and career interests and offer meaningful interactions with professionals in the field.”

Best practices in work-based learning

“Establishing relevant and engaging WBL experiences does not happen by chance. It requires thoughtful leadership and perseverance, strong business partnerships, alignment between education and workplace learning, and much more.” As you consider a plan to implement work-based learning, heed the following advice.

  1. Network, network, network. “Interact with friends, neighbors, school staff, and parents to open doors to engage employers with work-based learning activities.”
  2. Offer varying opportunities for involvement. “A potential business partner may shy away from an internship commitment but be very willing to host a tour or sponsor a speaker for a class.”
  3. Craft messaging that will appeal to your target audience. “General orientation materials would describe the program and the roles for the business, student and school. Orientation with the onsite supervisor/mentor should consist of specific on working with students, learning outcomes and the evaluation processes.”

Read the full brief sponsored by Xello — Delivering Real-world Experiences Through Work-based Learning — to explore these and other best practices for work-based learning in CTE.


  • The U.S. Department of Education’s Work-based Learning Toolkit “includes a series of guidelines and resources that local administrators can use to engage employers, scale effective programs, build data collection and ultimately connect learning to the workplace through an instructional strategy.”
  • ACTE’s Quality CTE Program of Study Framework (2018) outlines the need for “sustained, meaningful interactions with industry or community professionals that foster in-depth, firsthand engagement with the tasks required in a given career field,” and provides a set of criteria for a quality WBL program.