Experiential Learning,  Instructional Strategies

How do you know when you need Experiential Learning?

Overhead view of three people reviewing an architectural blueprint on a wooden table with a blue hard hat, documents, a coffee mug, a smartphone, and a laptop.

Summary: Identify when your teaching can benefit from experiential learning to boost student engagement with practical, real-world applications.

Date of Publishing: September 22, 2022

Experiential learning (EL) is not a new approach to teaching, but in recent years has become increasingly common in higher education. It is an engaging approach to teaching and learning that can be extremely beneficial for students, especially as they start their careers. Due to practical limitations, EL can’t always be used, which leads to the question: when should you use EL?

Situation 1: When students are learning a skill that is important in the real world 

Some skills taught in university courses are critical for students to perform successfully in their careers after graduation. These skills should be taught using EL. To identify these skills, you should review your program level outcomes, connect with recent graduates, talk to your disciplinary community, and/or reflect on the core skills of your discipline.

Situation 2: When students are learning a process that requires practice

Many processes require practice, feedback, and iteration to learn. If these processes are important for students to master, then you should use EL. Within EL, students perform activities, receive feedback, and complete facilitated reflection. The reflection stage moves them through a process of considering what they did, how it went, and what they’ll do differently next time. As a result, they are prepared to do better the next time they practice the process. The best EL implementations provide multiple opportunities for students to practice until they reach mastery.

 Situation 3: When students have trouble transferring theory into practice

Students often identify a gap between what they learn in the classroom (i.e., what they know) and what they are expected to do (i.e. to demonstrate their learning). They may feel like they understand what they’ve been learning and may even do well on an exam, but when they go to apply the learning in an authentic context, they struggle. If you’ve noticed this happening, you have a great opportunity to integrate EL into your course. EL provides students with the opportunity to practice and apply their learning in authentic contexts and navigate authentic variables they will likely encounter. The authentic context could be a complex work placement, but it doesn’t need to be. There are more accessible ways to provide an authentic context to all students, such as role plays, simulations, case studies, laboratories, or short-term projects with external partners.

Want to learn more?

Learn more about USask’s Experiential Learning Framework and find out what supports (including financial) are available here: USask Experiential Learning.


#Experiential Learning
#Authentic Tasks
#Course Design
#Instructional Strategies

This resource is shared by Wendy James at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning (GMCTL), University of Saskatchewan, under a CC BY-NC-SA license. 

Image by Malachi Witt https://pixabay.com/photos/meeting-business-architect-office-2284501/

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