Studying in autumn 2020 during coronavirus

PhD in Professional Studies / Work Based Learning

The Department of Education offers a PhD degree for those candidates who wish to engage in research in the fields of Work Based Learning or Professional Studies as areas of study and of academic inquiry.

PhD in Work Based Learning

Candidates are expected to write a dissertation focused on the learning that people do for, in and through work (paid or unpaid) or in their professional activity, with the possibility of examining different facets of this phenomenon. Likely areas of inquiry can include, but are not limited to issues around professional development; training at work; learning in communities of practices; pedagogy of work based learning; learning and development in organisations; processes of accreditation of learning; institutional policy towards work based learning; curriculum development in work based learning or professional practice; pedagogical theories and models underpinning work based learning, e-learning and work based learning.

PhD in Professional Studies

Research in the field of professional practice, in theory and as articulated in the workplace, is quickly expanding and candidates on this degree would make a contribution to this area of inquiry. It is a field that it is transdisciplinary, as practice typically crosses the artificial boundaries of academic disciplines. Likely areas of inquiry can include, but are not limited to the relation between theory and specific contexts of practice; transdisciplinary approaches to real-world problems; the relationship between research and practice in the context of a professional field, concepts and theories guiding professional practice in a specific field.

We particularly welcome proposal for PhD research in the following areas:

  • Approaches to pedagogy and curriculum development for work-based learners and professional practice researcher
  • Including
  1. Approaches to pedagogy and curriculum development for work-based learners
  2. Learning interventions within the workplace
  • Theoretical and Ethical Aspects of Practice-Based Studies
  • Approaches to Change and Development in WorkPolicy in Higher Education, in particular related to adult learning and work-based learning 


Typically, a PhD in work based learning or professional studies will take 3 years full-time (6 years part-time). Candidates are assigned a supervisor working in the aspect of the field that they have chosen to inquire and will undergo research training in forms of workshops with the Institute and with the wider University. In the academic setting, this PhD prepares candidates to work in Further and Higher Education Institutions that run degrees in work based learning or professional practice. In the private sector, this PhD prepares for managerial positions in learning and development departments. However, employability possibilities will vary according to the focus of the dissertation, thus the degree offers a wide range of career benefits.

A PhD candidate at the Institute joins a community of scholars and practitioners who have been working at the forefront of this field for over twenty years, making the Institute for Work Based Learning a leader in this area at international level. The doctoral community at the Institute includes over 300 students, enrolled on either a professional doctorate or a PhD. The Work and Learning Research Centre meets regularly to discuss new research in this field. The Institute supports candidates in becoming published authors and in developing their academic and professional career.

PhD or Professional Doctorate (DProf)?

Both degrees meet the quality criteria for doctoral level education, enable candidates to conduct in-depth research and confer the title of Doctor, but there are important differences.

A Professional Doctorate (also offered by the Institute for Work Based Learning) is suitable for individuals who seek to advance professional knowledge in their own field at a doctoral level. It's a degree designed for advanced practitioners who aim to make an impact in their organisation or community of practice. DProf candidates will probably be senior managers or consultants in their field and adopt a stance of inside-researchers, placing their own practice at the centre of inquiry. The outcome of DProf is a project that can take the form of a written dissertation or of an intervention or artefact that fosters change.

A PhD is suitable for individuals who seek to advance knowledge in an academic field of inquiry (in this case Work Based Learning or Professional Studies) through an independent study of theory, practice or policy, either empirical or conceptual. This will take the form of a 80,000-100,000 word dissertation. Contrary to the DProf, the employment status of the candidate is irrelevant as he or she will embark on an independent study aimed at providing academic training in the methodology, epistemology and subject-matter of that field.

For further enquiries

Please email Professor Carol Costley or call 0208 4116 524.

In this section

Back to top