Learning How to Learn at Work: Lessons from Three High School Programs

Learning How to Learn at Work: Lessons from Three High School Programs

Dec 1997

Cathleen Stasz
Tessa Kaganoff

Executive Summary:

During the 1990s, work-based learning has gained prominence as one element of local, state, and federal school reform strategies. Federal legislation passed as the School to Work Opportunities Act (STWOA) of 1994, for example, calls for redesigning educational programs to include both school-based and work-based learning (WBL). STWOA defines work-based learning as a planned program of work experience linked to school. It further specifies that WBL include training on the job, supervision by workplace mentors, and instruction in general workplace competencies and "all aspects of the industry." Successful completion of paid or unpaid work experiences (paid experiences are preferable under STWOA) should lead to a portable certificate. A recent evaluation of states receiving funds under STWOA indicates that developing work-based activities are the top priority.

Not surprisingly, the renewed interest in WBL raises questions about its effectiveness. Previous research provides some information about student outcomes associated with cooperative education, school-based enterprises, and other types of programs that incorporate WBL, but our understanding is sketchy at best, particularly for newer programs promoting broader purposes. While research suggests that the quality of work experience matters, there is little systematic information about quality across programs or even consensus on how to define it. Hardly any attention at all has been given to the actual experiences of students during WBL or the ways those experiences contribute to, or hinder, their intellectual and occupational development.


Stasz, C., & Kaganoff, T. (1997, December). Learning how to learn at work: Lessons from three high school programs. Berkeley, CA: National Center for Research in Vocational Education.