Experiential Education in Your Course

Experiential education can take many different forms. Whether you want to introduce an assignment that includes real community-based data or build your course around an immersive field experience, there are resources available at Brock to support you at all stages of the process.

Experiential education, like any instructional strategy you may choose, requires thoughtful and intentional consideration in order to be effective. Consider the resources below from the Experiential Learning Toolkit that break down the process of designing an course to include experiential learning opportunities, the role of the instructor in facilitating learning through this type of pedagogy, and assessment and evaluation of student learning happening through experience.

Experiential Learning Toolkit

Explore the Experiential Learning Toolkit developed by Niagara College, Brock, and Georgian College to learn more about how you can work with community partners to build experiential education into your course to support student learning.

What do you expect your students to have learned by the end of your course? Establishing your learning outcomes for the course can help you determine if integrating experiential education into your course will be meaningful and authentic for students in achieving the course expectations.If there is a strong alignment between the learning outcomes and the instructional strategies you choose, including experiential education, you are creating an environment that supports deeper engagement and learning.

What forms can experiential education take? What does Experiential education ‘look’ like?

Brock has identified 20 categories of experiential education. Explore the categories to learn more.

Experiential learning can take on many different forms. At the core of any experience is students purposefully engaging in learning that connects their course content to ‘real world’ experiences. This can happen both in and outside of the classroom.

What ‘counts’ as experiential education?

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities has identified 6 key characteristics that must be present in order for an instructional strategy to be considered experiential education. These include:

  1. The student is in a workplace or simulated workplace.
  2. The student is exposed to authentic demands that improve their employability, interpersonal skills, and transition to the workforce.
  3. The experience is structured with purposeful and meaningful activities.
  4. The student applies program knowledge.
  5. The experience includes student self-assessment and evaluation of the student’s performance on learning outcomes.
  6. The experience counts toward course credit

In addition to these characteristics, consider the overarching guidelines and principles for experiential education in the Experiential Learning Toolkit.

At Brock, you will be asked to identify if your course includes an experiential education component at the beginning of the term on the online Course Composition of Final Grades form. For more information about the form please contact the Experiential Education Coordinator in your Faculty/Department.

Where do students encounter experiential learning in their program? Does this matter?

Experiential learning can be a more active, autonomous, and engaging form of learning for students. The learning process can be different and new for some students requiring different learning skills, approaches and strategies. Considering the overall curriculum of the program, where your learners are coming from, and how prepared they are for both the content of the course and the learning methods is important.

Talk to your colleagues and your Department/Centre Chair or Director to learn more about when and where students encounter experiential education in their program.

  • What courses have students taken before they will encounter your course? What core courses will they have completed?
  • What types of experiential education have students participated in so far in the program? How can your course build on these experiences?
  • Have students engaged in reflective practice in the program either in the context of experiential education or not? Will you need to teach students the fundamentals of reflective practice or are they already accustomed to this type of learning and assessment?
  • What courses will they be taking after your course? What skills, attitudes or knowledge will they need to develop in your course to prepare them for their subsequent courses and experiential learning?

The Centre for Pedagogical Innovation can also help your Department/Centre map the curriculum and teaching methods of your program so that you and your colleagues can generate a robust picture of how students are engaging in experiential education across the program.

The categories of experiential education can be thought of as a spectrum. Students can benefit from experiential education at all stages of their program. Considering what level your course is can help guide the type of experiential education you may want to consider embedding in your course.

What TYPES OF learning outcomes ARE BEST ACHIEVED THROUGH experiential education?

Experiential learning often involves the intersection of theory and application. In this way, experiential education can support students in developing discipline-specific knowledge and skills. Additionally, experiential education can provide students with the opportunity to intentionally reflect upon their skills and development from a number of perspectives, including the “soft” or “human” or “professional” skills which we know are valuable to students pursuits beyond the classroom including in their career and civic goals. These skills are often part of broader program learning outcomes and degree-level expectations related to professional capacity and autonomy.

The value of experiential education is that it puts learners directly in contact with the realities being studied (Keeton & Tate, 1978). The learning environment is dynamic, complex, and in some cases unpredictable. It’s these complexities that enrich and deepen learning. Facilitating experiential education involves different skills and expertise than facilitating learning in other contexts.

WHAT ROLE DO I PLAY AS AN INSTRUCTOR?

In experiential learning, the student manages their own learning, rather than being told what to do and when to do it. The relationship between student and instructor is different, with the instructor passing much of the responsibility on to the student.

Schwartz (2012)

The role of the instructor in experiential learning is not the same as the role of an instructor in an traditional course. Given that experiential education puts students at the centre of the learning experience, the role of the instructor naturally shifts. Kolb describes four primary roles of an educator in experiential learning.

  • Facilitator – establishing the conditions for the experience to enable learning to surface (e.g. selecting appropriate activities and settings; scoping projects with community partners to fit with expectations for the course; asking probing questions before/during/after the experience to guide reflection)
  • Coach – support learners in navigating the experience and developing skills (e.g. answering questions; providing formative feedback; working with students to create personal learning/development plans)
  • Standard-setter/evaluator – establish clear objectives and expectations; evaluates student learning and performance (e.g. designing assessments that connect the experience to the course learning outcomes; determining what constitutes evidence of learning and communicating that to students; communicating with community partners to establish expectations and scope of experience)
  • Subject expert – preparing students with the knowledge and skills they will need to engage in the experience; focusing students’ attention on key learning from experience in relation to subject-matter (e.g. delivering lectures before/after the experience on theory or concepts connected to the experience)

You will likely play each of these roles as an experiential educator. The balance of each will be determined by the nature of your students and the experience. While taking a ‘guide-on-the-side’ approach to allow students to engage authentically in a learning experience is important, so too is setting up the conditions of the experience to support their learning. Too much oversight and the experience may be inauthentic or too rigid to allow for individuals to engage meaningfully in the experience; too little oversight and students may feel lost, disengaged, or not make the connection between the course learning outcomes and the experience.

How do I prepare students for experiential learning?
How do I work with community partners to support their experience working with my students?

Assessing and evaluating the learning that happens through an experience offers unique opportunities and challenges. Experiential learning is meant to be dynamic and complex, and thus each students’ learning experience may be different, requiring us to consider how we evaluate learning through a different lens.

How can I design assessments to support student learning through experiential education?

 

How can I engage community partners in the assessment process?

Community partners can offer a valuable perspective on students’ learning and development. Depending on the level of engagement and supervision that the community partners have played it may be appropriate to invite their feedback. It is important to prepare partners to contribute feedback in a way that will benefit both the student and the organization.

For courses involving a practicum, internship, or highly engaged experiential component that has students working extensively with a community partner, actively engaging community partners in the assessment will provide students with rich feedback that you may not be able to offer depending on how often you have observed the student in the experience. In these circumstances, engaging with community partners before the course to communicate the learning outcomes for the experience and the criteria for success is critical. You may wish to co-construct these with the community partner depending on the nature of the experience. Being on the same page from the outset will help to ensure that the student experience is aligned and that everyone is on the same page. Having opportunities for the community partner to offer iterative feedback is also helpful – it gives them the ability to identify what is going well and what areas the student needs to focus their learning on throughout the course rather than just at the end when there the opportunity for change has passed.

Providing a framework for feedback can be helpful as it communicates clear expectations to the community partner and the student on what is expected. How often should the student expect feedback? What form should the feedback take (oral or written)? Is the feedback factored into the student’s evaluation for the course and if so how? These are all questions that you should consider before the course begins and clearly communicate to both the community partner and the student.

Feedback offered by community partners can be the foundation for meaningful reflection by students which can be a component of their graded assessment in the course. Reflecting on and responding to feedback, creating a learning or action plan, and critically evaluating their progress are all critical components of student engagement and learning.

How can I evaluate reflection?

The goal of a reflective assignment is to have students critically reflect on their experience in relation to the learning outcomes for the course. Reflection-based assignments can take many forms and allow you to gather evidence of students’ learning processes before, during, and after an experience.  In this respect, setting up clear guidelines and explicit expectations to guide students in reflecting on their experience is key. Providing clear instructions with prompting questions or a framework for reflection can support students in demonstrating their learning. Depending on the how much experience your students have with reflection, it can be common for students describe their experience without analyzing or considering it within the context of the course. To help students move beyond the descriptive phase, modeling reflective practice and providing formative feedback in class or as part of the experience through discussions is also helpful in communicating your expectations to students.

Visit the Role of Reflection section of the Guidebook for more information on how to evaluate reflection and examples of reflection-based assignments being used by Brock instructors.

Centre for Pedagogical Innovation

The team at CPI can support you in introducing or restructuring experiential education in your courses. We offer support in developing learning outcomes, activities, and reflection-based assessment and designing effective experiential learning opportunities.

Experiential Education Coordinators

The Experiential Education Coordinator in your Faculty/Department can support you in coordinating experiential education in your course. Connect with them to discuss community partner engagement, accessing technology, or the logistics of experiential education.

Makerspace

Interested in supporting experiential education with technology? The Makerspace is home to a suite of audio, video, virtual reality, programming, and 3D creation equipment to support experiential learning. Learn more about accessing this equipment on a short- or long-term loan to support experiential education in your course.

Teaching & Learning Innovation Grants

Course development grants are available to faculty who want to introduce experiential education to their course.