Experiential Learning Definitions & Resources


Experiential learning is the application of theory and academic content to real-world experiences, either within the classroom, the community, or the workplace, which advances program or course-based learning outcomes that are specifically focused on employability skills. Experiential learning comes in many forms, including but not limited to:
*Click on the experiences below to learn more*

  • Internships/Cooperative Education (Co-Ops)
      An internship is a work experience within an organization where a student is looking to gain relevant skills, knowledge, and experience in a particular field related to their major or career goals. Internships are typically one-time work experiences that involve working in professional settings under the supervision and mentorship of practicing professionals. Internships can be paid or unpaid, and the student may or may not receive academic credit for performing the internship. (Ref 3)

      A Co-op offers students multiple periods of hands-on work experience related to their major or career goal. Students typically alternate terms of full-time classroom study with terms of full-time, discipline-related employment. Since the program participation involves multiple work terms, the typical participant will work three or four work terms, thus gaining a year or more of career-related work experience before graduation. Virtually all co-op positions are paid, and the clear majority involve some form of academic credit. (Ref 3)
  • Undergraduate Research/Fieldwork
      Undergraduate Research/Fieldwork is the formation of a collaborative initiative between student/scholar and faculty member/mentor. This collaboration hopes to facilitate a four-step learning process:

      1. The identification of and acquisition of a disciplinary or interdisciplinary methodology
      2. The setting out of a concrete investigative problem
      3. The carrying out of the actual project
      4. The dispersing or sharing of a new scholar’s discoveries with their peers or discipline where scholars experience some independence, have room for creativity and feel ownership of the research project. (Ref 2)
  • Volunteer/Shadowing Experience
      A volunteer/shadowing experience is generally considered an altruistic activity where an individual or group provides services for no financial or social gain “to benefit another person, group or organization”. Volunteering is renowned for skill development and is often intended to promote goodness or to improve the human quality of life. Volunteering typically has positive benefits for the volunteer as well as for the person or community served. (Ref 1)
  • Practicum/Student Teaching Experience
      A practicum/student teaching experience is considered to be observational learning in a variety of fields. It is common practice for students to enroll in a practicum course that outlines goals and expectations and confers academic credit. The academic course facilitates learning and participation with reflective assignments and follow-up discussions. Students connect their experiences during the program to the theories and concepts they have learned.
  • Clinical Experience
      A Clinical Experience usually involves hands-on, experiential work within a healthcare, medical or mental healthcare setting. Often, there is some level of direct patient/client contact and could include observing, practicing, or experiencing clinical work. (Ref 4)
  • References
    1. Center for Community-Engaged Learning – Michigan State University. (n.d.). What is Community-Engaged Learning? Retrieved June 17, 2020, from https://communityengagedlearning.msu.edu/faculty/what-is-community-engaged-learning
    2. Council for Undergraduate Research. (n.d.). Mission Statement. Retrieved June 17, 2020, from https://www.cur.org/who/organization/mission/
    3. NACE. (n.d.). Position Statement: U.S. Internships. Retrieved June 17, 2020, from https://www.naceweb.org/about-us/advocacy/position-statements/position-statement-us-internships/
    4. The University of Denver (n.d.) Clinical Experience. Retrieved October 21, 2021, from https://career.du.edu/blog/2017/09/15/clinical-experience-what-it-is-and-how-to-find-it/