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Experiential Learning: A Primer: CATEGORY: Location & Nature of Experience

How to Make Your Teaching More EngagingThis categorization is based on the location (in-class vs out of class) and nature of the experience (simulated vs OJT) as practiced.  Thus, the experiences are subdivided into (1) those specific to practice or training in a career field or field work, (2) a university/institution sponsored study experience, (3) in-class hands-on/“learning by doing” experience, and (4) a simulated system/process/entity/phenomenon experience. These categories can be fluid, and many of the experiences in these areas cross categorical boundaries. For example undergraduate research can be course specific, or independent, on campus or off campus (or out of country) fieldwork and funded by outside institutions such as the  National Science Foundation.

Outside of Class Career Practice/Training/Field Experience

Apprenticeships - Apprenticeships provide students an opportunity to try out a job, usually with an experienced professional in the field to act as a mentor. 

Internships - Internships provide students with an opportunity to test the waters in a career field and also gain some valuable work experience. Internships can be for credit, not for credit, paid, or unpaid.

Clinical Experiences -Clinical experiences provide hands-on experiences of a predetermined duration directly tied to an area of study, such as nursing students participating in a hospital-based experience or child development and teacher education students participating in day care and classroom settings.

Fieldwork - Field work allows students to explore and apply content learned in the classroom in a specified field experience away from the classroom. Field work experiences bridge educational experiences with an outside community that can range from neighborhoods and schools to anthropological dig sites and laboratory settings.

Volunteering - Volunteering allows students to serve in a community primarily because they choose to do so. Many serve through a nonprofit organization—sometimes referred to as formal volunteering—but a significant number also serve less formally, either individually or as part of a group.

Student Teaching - Student teaching provides candidates with an opportunity to put into practice the knowledge and skills they have been developing in the preparation program. Student teaching typically involves an on-site experience in a partner school and opportunities for formal and informal candidate reflection on their teaching experience

University/Institution Sponsored Academic Study Experiences

Study Abroad - Study abroad offers students a unique opportunity to learn in another culture, within the security of a host family and a host institution carefully chosen to allow the transfer of credit to a student’s degree program.

Fellowships / Scholars Programs - Provide tuition or aid to support the training of students for a period of time. They are usually made by educational institutions, corporations, or foundations to assist individuals pursuing a course of study or research

Practicums - Practicums are often a required component of a course of study and place students in a supervised and often paid situation. Students develop competencies and apply previously studied theory and content, such as school library media students working in a high school library or marketing majors working in a marketing research firm.

Service Learning - Service learning is distinguished by being mutually beneficial for both student and community. Service-learning is growing rapidly and is considered a part of experiential education by its very nature of learning, performing a job within the community, and serious reflection by the student. Service-learning involves tackling some of society’s complex issues such as homelessness, poverty, lack of quality education, pollution, etc.

Undergraduate Research / Independent Studies - Undergraduate research is increasingly common at universities across all disciplines. With strong support from the National Science Foundation and the research community, scientists are reshaping their courses to connect key concepts and questions with students’ early and active involvement in systematic investigation and research. The goal is to involve students with actively contested questions, empirical observation, cutting-edge technologies, and the sense of excitement that comes from working to answer important questions.

In class “Hands-on” / Learn by Doing Experience

These traditional classroom experiences seem to already have the "learning by doing" element of experiential learning and can be fully realized as such if invested with analysis and process skills that facilitate reflection and content rich pedagogy.  Indeed, some of these experiences, such as those in the performing arts seem to have these properties built into them already.  Each of the experiences below link to an example / article / explanation of such content rich, reflective pedagogy.

Science Lab

Performing Arts





“Applied Research” courses (Ex: SOC 462: Applied Sociological Research- Miami University)

Simulated System / Process / Entity / Phenomenon Experience

Simulations and Games / Role-Playing - When used as part of a course, simulations and gaming/role-playing aim to imitate a system, entity, phenomenon, or process. They attempt to represent or predict aspects of the behavior of the problem or issue being studied. Simulation can allow experiments to be conducted within a fictitious situation to show the real behaviors and outcomes of possible conditions

These include the Model United Nations and the Model African Union as well as mock trial experiences. 

Case Studies -Although they have been used most extensively in the teaching of medicine, law and business, case studies can be an effective teaching tool in any number of disciplines. As an instructional strategy, case studies have a number of virtues. They “bridge the gap between theory and practice and between the academy and the workplace” (Barkley, Cross, and Major 2005, p.182). They also give students practice identifying the parameters of a problem, recognizing and articulating positions, evaluating courses of action, and arguing different points of view. (from Eberly Center, Carnegie Mellon University)

Problem Based Learning (PBL) - Problem-based learning is a category of experiential learning that involves students in the process of critical thinking to examine problems that lack a well-defined answer. In problem-based learning, students are given a problem with only preliminary information. They work towards solving the problems themselves, rather than reviewing how others have resolved the situation or problem as in a case study. (from Center for Experimental Learning, Application, and Research UNT Teaching Commons, Univ. of North Texas)

Game Based Learning (GBL) - The core concept behind game-based learning is teaching through repetition, failure and the accomplishment of goals. Game-based learning takes this same concept and applies it to teaching a curriculum. Students work toward a goal, choosing actions and experiencing the consequences of those actions. They actively learn and practice the right way to do things. The result is active, experiential learning instead of passive learning.

Barkley, E. F, Cross, K. P. & Major, C. H. (2005) Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San-Francisco: Jossey-Bass.