The model of Work-focused Learning was developed since 2003 through the work of the Ultraversity project at Anglia Ruskin University and the Interdisciplinary Inquiry Based Learning Project and Coeducate Project at the University of Bolton.
Conceived by Professor Stephen Heppell at the Ultraversity research lab at Anglia Ruskin University, this project was established to develop a new model for undergraduate higher education (HE) for learners who were unable or unwilling to take advantage of current provisions. To do this, a particular set of pedagogical and organisational arrangements were made:
- the course was delivered entirely online
- day-to-day work is the focus of students learning, rather than a subject or academic disciplines
- and the use of the action-inquiry process for teaching and learning
This approach makes it possible to work full-time and also gain academic credit at a full-time rate. The impact of this work came through the BA (Hons.) Learning, Technology and Research degree programme that graduated 140 students in its first full cohort in 2006 and this approach later became labelled as Work-Focussed Learning, attracting media attention as ‘something’ different in HE.
The IDIBL project (Inter-Disciplinary Inquiry-Based Learning) was developed at the University of Bolton in 2007 as an institution wide change initiative for the development of new programmes that are based on the ideas of Work-focussed Learning developed by the Ultraversity project. A description of the pedagogical approach including module descriptions as part of a framework was developed and validated. The significance of this approach is that it offers a change mechanism that enables the agile development of new programmes in different faculties re-using the validation documentation including module specifications. In addition, it offers a solution to the problem of managing the wide variety in student needs who are studying in the work place. The impact of this work has been felt across the institution as a stimulus to new programmes and ways of thinking about curriculum design.
The Coeducate Project was funded by JISC under the Institutional Curriculum Change Programme. The project sought to understand the nature of curriculum innovation and change across the university to improve the effectiveness and efficiency in developing provision. The need for such a project was made apparent by the IDIBL project, which encountered numerous barriers including structural, business processes, and culture and ways of working. The work included process redesign and staff capability building with the deployment of supportive technology to help achieve this.