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Experiential Learning

Ask yourself: How many of your students will have a career or a life in which their primary responsibilities are to read a textbook, listen to someone else lecture, and then take a test?

If faculty and staff want their students to be successful after graduation then they need to ensure that students are building the employability-skills and life-skills that students will use after graduation – experiential learning fosters these skills.

Capital University’s CELT offers workshops to help faculty and staff develop and implement Experiential Learning activities with students. Below, CELT provides definitions and examples of Experiential Learning.

Community-Engaged Learning

Community engagement describes collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity. The purpose of community engagement is the partnership of college and university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity; enhance curriculum, teaching and learning; prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good.

  • Examples of Preparing for the Experience: What do you imagine your community partner site is like? What are some perceptions that you have about the agency you will be working with?  What are some of perceptions or beliefs about the population you will be serving? What is the identified problem or need?  What fear, if any, do you have about working in the community? What do you hope to gain from this experience?  What communities/identity groups are you a member of? How might this be related with your commitment to service? 
  • Examples of Reflection During/After the Experience: Did anything surprise you? If so, what? What did you do today that made you feel that you made a difference? Why? Did anything happen that made you feel uncomfortable? If so what, and why do you think it made you feel this way? What did you do that seemed to be effective or ineffective in service to others? How does your understanding of the community change as a result of your participation in this project? How can you continue your involvement with this group or social issue? What are the most difficult and most satisfying parts of the service you are performing? Why? What do you think is your most valued contribution to the project? How is your experience relevant to what you are learning in class?

Civic Engagement

Civic engagement is ‘working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.’ (Excerpted from Civic Responsibility and Higher Education, Oryx Press, 2000)  In addition, civic engagement encompasses actions wherein individuals participate in activities of personal and public concern that are both individually life enriching and socially beneficial to the community.


Fieldwork and internships are official programs offered by an employer that include part time or fulltime employment that might be paid or unpaid, and course work that helps students integrate their experiences with the employer and their course work.

  • Examples of Preparing for the Experience: What are students’ goals for the experience? Prepare students to keep notes of their experiences, including observations, reactions (their own and others), problems and how problems are addressed. Discuss potential ethics issues that might arise and possible ways for students to address ethical issues. Discuss issues of confidentiality, FERPA and HIPPA regulations, if appropriate.
  • Examples of Reflection During/After the Experience: How have students requested feedback? How have students responded to and/or applied feedback that they received? How have students used what they learned in classes (across the curriculum) in the experience? What do they wish they had learned in classes prior to the internship experience? How has the experience changed their understanding of the type of work they did and the discipline? How have students’ career goals changed?

Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL)

Student teams use specially designed activities that have these qualities: Self-managed teams that employ the instructor as a facilitator of learning rather than a source of information; Students guided through an exploration to construct understanding, and Discipline content to facilitate the development of important process skills, including higher-level thinking and the ability to learn and to apply knowledge in new contexts.

  • Examples of Preparing for the Experience: Students have assigned roles within their groups. The activity is designed to be the first introduction to the topic or specific content. The students are not expected to have worked on any part of the activity prior to class meeting time. Groups are expected to complete all of the Critical Thinking Questions (or equivalently designated questions) during class (in no more than about 40 minutes of actual working time).
  • Examples of Reflection During/After the Experience: Summarize the process objectives of the today’s session. Cite two examples of how you carried out your team role today. What insight have you gained as a result of your team’s performance today? What did you do to prepare for today’s class? How might you prepare better next time? What was your plan for improving performance today compared to the last session, and why was your plan successful or not successful?

Learn more about POGIL

Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Investigation of an authentic, engaging and complex question or problem that ideally has the following qualities: A focus on student learning outcomes such as critical thinking/problem solving, communication, collaboration, and self-management; A meaningful problem to solve or a question to answer; Rigorous, extended process of asking questions, finding resources, and applying information; Real-world context, tasks and tools, quality standards, or impact – or speaks to students’ personal concerns, interests, and issues in their lives; Student control over how they work and what they create; Student reflection on learning, the effectiveness of their inquiry and project activities, the quality of work, obstacles, and how to overcome them; Opportunities to give, receive, and use feedback to improve process and products; and Public dissemination of products, beyond the classroom.

  • Examples of Preparing for the Experience: Discuss the importance of group work. Establish rules for effective group work. Discuss cooperative learning skills, inquiry skills (e.g., problem framing, data gathering, divergent thinking and idea generation, evaluating alternative solutions), reflection skills, peer assessment, and self-assessment. If the experience will be a community-based project or projects, work should begin on the project at least one semester or summer prior to the installation into the course.  It will take time to find community partners who have immediate projects.  Finding community partners with sustainable projects that can be broken down into smaller semester project pieces can really jumpstart the PBL.
  • Examples of Reflection During/After the Experience: What was the question driving the project? What steps did you take in the project? What is the most important thing you learned? What do you wish you had done differently? What part of the project did you do your best work on? What was the most/least enjoyable part of the project?

Learn more about PBL

Role-Play Simulation

Students are involved in “as-if” situations, by way of simulated actions and circumstances and are expected to act “as-if” specific conditions and situations exist, with different roles implying various types of behaviors, goals and arguing. Student learning increases as the number of perspectives they take increase.

  • Examples of Preparing for the Experience: Explain what students should be learning, how the experience fits with course material, and how student learning will be assessed (if at all).
  • Examples of Reflection During/After the Experience: In view of your role, how did you define your goals? What was your initial strategy for achieving your goals? At what point was your strategy working well? In what ways was your strategy unsuccessful? When, if ever, did you modify or change your goals or strategies to reach them? Why and how did you modify or change them? How would you evaluate your performance overall? How successfully did you achieve your goals? How effective was your strategy?

Undergraduate Research (UR)

An inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline.

  • Examples of Preparing for the Experience: At the department level: Build a curriculum that develops research-ready students. At the individual level: Establish a manageable timeline and break down the process into manageable units. Establish a regular meeting time. Establish expectations for mentoring. Establish expectations for the scholarly product(s) that will result from the experience.
  • Examples of Reflection During/After the Experience: Describe how your project relates to your major or discipline. What did you learn from the relationships you developed with your mentor and research peers? How has your research experience impacted your future educational goals? Which skills did your research project help you refine? How will those skills be helpful beyond this project? How did your research project inspire you to learn more about something new?

Learn more about Undergraduate Research

Community-Based Research (CBR)

Community-based research (CBR) involves collaboration between… researchers and community members in the design and implementation of research projects aimed at meeting community-identified needs… CBR is done with rather than on the community… CBR holds as a central tenant the involvement of community members in every stage of the research process… CBR has a critical action component such that the knowledge produced has the potential to bring about some positive social change