Can We Really Provide Work-based Learning for Every Student?

In an ideal world, we all would like every student to have a work-based learning experience, right?  In its simplest concept, a work-based learning experience is simply that – a learning experience that is closely based upon what a person might experience in the workplace or the world of work.  They would be performing tasks that require knowledge and skills found in the workplace, and they would be required to complete those tasks to a level of rigor and excellence that would satisfy the expectations of an employer and ultimately, the paying customer.

The research indicates that work-based learning provides all kinds of pay-offs – from increased motivation, stronger work-place competencies, and even long-term earnings gains.

So what happens when the ideal-world collides with the real-world?  It’s hard enough to get students to attend school and arrange transportation, teachers, curriculum and facilities to serve students.  Now we also need to arrange for work-based learning experiences – getting employers involved and students out of the school building several times a week?

How do we do work-based learning at scale?

One of my favorite people, Dr. Lazaro (Laz) Lopez, is looking to figure out a workable answer to these questions.  Laz is the Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning at District 214 on the north side of Chicago.  I met Laz when he was principal at Wheeling High School and was implementing an array of excellent pathway programs and creating an inquiry- and project-based STEM culture throughout the entire school. (See my book, The STEM Leader Guide, which profiles Wheeling HS, among other schools).

Dr. Lopez and his team, including Mr. Daniel Weidner, Director of Career & Technical Education, are completely reconfiguring the way work-based learning is organized and facilitated inside their district and across D214’s six high schools.   They’ve housed all these efforts under their “Center for Career Discovery.” See more at  The entire district team is relentlessly working toward the goal of every graduating senior having completed a meaningful work-based learning experience that is directly tied to their pathway area of career interest.

You can learn about the effort through our new webcast, called Taking Workplace Learning to Scale: An Internship Strategy.”  This is part of our Engage.Connect Webcast Series, where we highlight innovative programs or techniques in education.

Watch this webcast

Add a comment:  Leave a comment, telling us about your biggest successes, but also the challenges, of implementing work-based learning for your students.  Thanks!


Hans Meeder is President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions.  (  NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.

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