Work-based learning (WBL) is an educational strategy that provides students with real-life work experiences where they can apply academic and technical skills and develop employability skills. The concept of work-based learning has been in practice for centuries and is an integral part of the Career and Technical Education system.

Work-based learning experiences occur in a work setting, typically at an employer's worksite. The work-based learning activities are coordinated with school-based activities in an attempt to show students the "why" of what they are learning. Work-based learning strategies provide career awareness, career exploration opportunities, career planning activities, and help students reach competencies such as positive work attitudes and employability skills.

Educators are encouraged to research, refine, and use the information provided here to the ultimate benefit of students as they prepare for the world of work.

Work-Based Learning Toolkit
(pdf, 2.1mb)

Business Engagement Guide
(pdf, 1.3mb)

Work-based learning experiences can be categorized in three ways:


The work-based learning experience may last from a few hours to hundreds of hours. Job shadowing is usually a half-day or a full day. At a large company, job shadowing could last for more than one day. Most forms of work-based learning last over 100 hours.


Work-based learning can be tied to a specific course using the cooperative method, or can be independent from specific coursework. In cooperative education, the work-based learning is tied directly to a specific course. Sometimes everyone in a specific class is engaged in a work-based learning experience at the same time. This allows the teacher to have the students connect what they are learning in the classroom with what they are learning in the workplace. Job shadowing, internships, mentorships, and service learning are often not tied to a specific course and would be considered independent work-based learning.


Work-based learning experiences may be paid or unpaid. Other than a paycheck, remuneration might include company discounts or scholarships. Cooperative education experiences are always paid employment.

The Department of Labor has strict regulations that must be followed when working in an unpaid position. US DOL Fact Sheet #71 discusses rational for unpaid internships.