Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to identify the barriers that higher education (HE) work-based learners face when constructing experiential learning claims through reflective narratives. Design/methodology/approach: A survey of 38 part-time, HE undergraduate work-based learners was conducted. A questionnaire was designed comprising Likert scale and open ended questions to capture students’ experiences of constructing experiential learning claims. Findings: The study found that students experience several learning barriers including the diversity and complexity of reflective learning models, the solitary nature of reflective learning, problems articulating tacit knowledge in writing, emotional barriers to reflective learning, accurately recalling “historic” learning experiences and difficulties in developing the meta-competence of learning to learn. Practical implications: Consideration should be given to assisting learners to develop the skills necessary to select and use reflective learning models that best fit particular experiential learning contexts. Learners should be encouraged to undertake group reflection in the classroom and in the workplace to enable them to write critical reflective narratives that have integrity. There should be less reliance on written reflective narratives to evidence tacit knowledge with consideration given to other methods such as practical demonstrations, videos presentations and interviews. Originality/value: The study contributes to knowledge of the barriers that students face when constructing experiential learning claims through reflective narratives. It proposes an outline pedagogical scaffolding framework to assist learners to develop recognition of prior learning (RPL) claims to enable them to maximise opportunities for claiming credits through universities RPL processes.