Simulated Work-Based Learning Instructional Approaches and Noteworthy Practices

This paper explores the potential benefits that simulated Work-Based Learning (WBL) may offer career and technical education (CTE) students. 

Rebecca Moyer
Jeanne Snodgrass
Steven Klein
Chris Tebben
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
National Center for Innovation in Career and Technical Education
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

Work-based learning (WBL) has long been used in career and technical education (CTE) to allow students to practice the knowledge and skills they acquire in the classroom within a “real-world” business or industry setting. Relatively little is known about the contribution simulated WBL can make to student learning, its most effective forms or fields of application, or its advantages relative to other forms of instruction. This paper explores the potential benefits that simulated WBL may offer CTE students. It is based on evidence gathered from a review of online resources and telephone interviews with state and local program staff in nine project sites located in five states—Alabama, Kansas, Montana, North Carolina, and West Virginia—using simulation as an instructional tool. Project work focused on classifying the forms that simulated WBL can take, the prevalence of program offerings at the secondary and postsecondary education levels, the perceived benefits of quality programs, and the obstacles to their formation.

Simulated Work-based Learning Models – Although educators are using a range of approaches to simulate work, the CTE programs in the nine sites examined fell into three models:

  • Model 1: Simulation Tools – provides students with access to simulation equipment that replicates what is used at the jobsite and engages them in scenarios they would likely encounter at work.
  • Model 2: Simulated Workplaces – simulated workplaces that transform CTE classrooms into work-like environments that immerse students in the culture and expectations of actual workplaces to develop their technical and employability skills. 
  • Model 3: School-based Enterprises – a simulated instructional strategy, typically used within secondary schools, that engages students in producing goods or services for sale to the school or wider community.

Each model offers opportunities for CTE students to practice and grow career skills, none of which are exclusive to a given approach. The emphasis on skill training does vary by model, which in turn affects the education level at which it is employed and the resources necessary for its success. At the secondary level, educators in the sites were primarily using simulated workplaces and school-based enterprises to promote the development of employability and foundational technical skills through broad experiential learning. At the postsecondary level, simulation tools were used more frequently for students to practice basic and advanced skill applications in stand-alone simulators or in more realistic simulated work environments.

Program Development – Educators in the nine sites reported common issues when designing and implementing simulated instruction regardless of the different models they used. These central factors included the following:

  • Choosing an Instructional Model – Educators need to begin by establishing their instructional goals, which can inform the approach they use to frame their curriculum.
  • Preparing Instructors to Teach Simulations – An emphasis on skill application in authentic settings requires that teachers adopt new pedagogic strategies and modify their curriculums to align simulation tools and scenarios with their learning objectives.
  • Securing Employer Engagement – Engaging workforce representatives early on helps to ensure that simulations are aligned with contemporary industry practices and standards.
  • Financing Programs – While simulation tools can produce some instructional cost savings, staff reported that they needed to identify additional funding sources to cover ongoing program operations and maintenance.

Program Benefits – Program staff were generally enthusiastic about the educational contribution of simulated WBL. Interviews with staff in the nine sites produced qualitative data on the benefits of simulation for the following:

  • Students – Educators reported that students were more engaged when offered hands-on, simulated instruction.
  • Employers – Employers reported that simulated learning helped enhance students’ career awareness and job preparation.
  • Instructional providers – Simulations allowed schools and institutions to offer workplace experiences to more students than they could otherwise serve.
  • States – Simulated WBL is seen as a tool for promoting economic development, particularly in instances where adoption occurred at the statewide level.

Considerations for Adoption – Interviews with state and local staff indicate that, regardless of the simulation model, educators must anticipate and take steps to address a range of issues that affect program adoption:

  1. Do the up-front research to inform program design.
  2. Engage industry throughout the process.
  3. Build buy-in from key education stakeholders.
  4. Plan and budget for the long term.

Includes References and appendices:

  • Appendix A: Methods
  • Appendix B: Literature and Web Review
  • Appendix C: Site Interview Summaries
Benefits and Uses

Educators considering the adoption of simulated WBL need to consider each model's advantages and tailor their program offerings to their specific community needs. This report serves to introduce educators to simulated WBL programs, program development considerations, and program benefits. The report also includes profiles of each simulated WBL model, illustrated by examples from each of the nine sites. This paper provides a cross-site synthesis of considerations for stakeholders interested in adopting simulated WBL.

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