Bringing Work Home: A Framework for Virtual Work-Based Learning

Communities around the country have been grappling with the challenges posed by COVID-19 and its implications for learning. While a large part of the public conversation has been around how to translate traditional classroom learning, we also know that it is essential to continue developing valuable employability skills through virtual work-based learning. In this blog post, we will explore issues communities may face and consider as they continue to develop and support quality work-based learning (WBL) for their youth and young adults.

Grounding Delivery in the Essential Elements of Work-Based Learning

As communities are adapting current WBL opportunities or creating new virtual opportunities, they should continue to focus on the essential elements and outcomes of WBL to guide their design process. High-quality WBL:

We are continuously uploading examples of virtual activities, resources, and community models for experiences along the WBL Continuum that can be found here:

Within these links, you will hear directly from communities through recorded webinars, view guidance documents broadly applicable as well as specific to industry areas such as the Career Development Experience Toolkit, and learn about platforms that are able to provide robust work-based learning experiences in a virtual setting.

Virtual Work-Based Learning as an Opportunity to Design for Sustainability and Equity

Communities throughout the state have had to shift their approaches to work-based learning abruptly given COVID-19 and associated stay-at-home orders. Organizations are already thinking creatively and intentionally to provide remote opportunities and engagement to ensure that Participants1 continue to have access to high-quality, authentic work-based learning opportunities. While current work-based learning efforts should reflect social distancing and health guidelines, communities must also consider how adapting current systems and opportunities can be a strategy to support equity of access.

Virtual work-based learning can address several common barriers for participation, including:

  • Transportation: Providing authentic, high-quality work-based learning in a remote environment can increase the number of Participants able to access opportunities in a way that doesn’t require transportation.
  • Distance, size, and type of partner sites: Through virtual WBL, Participants can engage with Host sites across the state, nation, and even internationally! Virtual WBL also provides the opportunity to engage with Hosts with small teams, or Hosts who don’t have a physical location. 
  • Diverse student needs for support and access: Virtual WBL should be structured to support and address the cognitive, emotional, physical, and sensory needs of Participants to engage in high-quality WBL. Managing Organizations can also be intentional about matching Participants to Host staff that reflect the diverse identities of Participants to better support relationship building and mentoring.

Ensuring Authenticity and Quality

To ensure virtual WBL is just as robust and authentic as it is in-person, communities should consider the following factors when designing experiences:

  • How are Participants intentionally engaged in opportunities for self-reflection and supported to work independently?
  • What is the guidance for Hosts to communicate safely and provide intentional mentoring to Participants? (Resource: Guidance for Host and Participant Check-Ins)
  • How are expectations for work products and outcomes being communicated to Participants? 
  • Are virtual platforms being utilized to maintain as much interactivity and targeted engagement as possible? (Use of polls, working in small break-out groups, etc.)
  • Do the opportunities provided address multiple levels of technology access and ability to interact remotely? (Resource: Example Education Pathway WBL Continuum)

An Opportunity to Build Entrepreneurship Skills

With the increased focus on self-reflection and independence, virtual WBL provides an opportunity to create experiences that can develop entrepreneurial competencies in Participants. How can Participants help create innovative solutions for the challenges facing communities in the current context? Structuring thoughtful opportunities for such input can help develop entrepreneurship as defined as part of the State’s Essential Employability Competencies. These competencies include:

  • Principles of Entrepreneurship: Understanding the process and characteristics of business development and promotion in order to apply strategies of innovation to personal and professional business pursuits. 
  • Innovation & Invention: Understanding idea generation, design thinking, and product and business development in order to introduce and process new and effective ideas. 
  • Growth Mindset: Understanding how to learn from challenges, set-backs, and failure in order to adapt strategies and continue efforts to achieve personal goals. 

Our current context has required us all to shift abruptly and provide opportunities and learning in ways that we never have before. While it has been a daunting task for many, we hope that the resources, community models, and information provided here will help communities develop and provide meaningful and robust virtual work-based learning experiences that ultimately prepare youth to be college and career ready.

  1. Virtual Work-Based Learning Terminology:
    Participant: The individual who will participate in the WBL experience, i.e., the high school student, opportunity youth, participant in a non-profit/community-based youth development program, etc.
    Managing Organization/Organization: Lead entity working to organize and coordinate the delivery of WBL to Participants. This may be a school, non-profit or community-based organization, chamber of commerce, other public/ private institutions, religious organization, etc. It may also be a convening organization or intermediary in a community.
    Host: Typically thought of as the employer, the company, or organization providing the expertise, guidance, workplace, or authentic working conditions for a Participant to complete a WBL experience.
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