Purpose – Information and communication technologies have transformed higher education providing e-mechanisms to support the delivery of content, communication and interaction. One example is the widespread adoption of virtual learning environments (VLEs) by higher education institutions to provide a key interface among learners, the content and tutors. The aim of this paper is to explore the effectiveness of the design of educational systems for work based learning (WBL) from the learner's perspective. The study includes consideration of the use of technology to support the work based learning process for the learner. Design/methodology/approach – Case studies from four postgraduate programmes and one undergraduate programme within the School of Computing, Engineering and Information Sciences (CEIS) at Northumbria University are presented. Key results from a survey of students on these programmes are discussed. Findings – The results demonstrate that there are different motivations for this type of provision when compared with more conventional higher education programmes. In this digital age, technology should be a key enabling factor and students expect its adoption to support the learning process. However, academic institutions and staff are still not fully exploiting the possibilities of new media technologies through adapting their approaches to learning. Originality/value – Traditionally the WBL concept has focused on two of the stakeholder contexts, namely the learner and the academic environment. Consideration of the other two important stakeholder contexts: the workplace and the external environment could significantly enrich the student experience and overall effectiveness of WBL delivery. The current study aims to address this deficit by considering all four stakeholders contexts in one model in order to evaluate the effectiveness of design of educational systems for WBL. This paper presents the first of these stakeholder contexts, the learner experience.