This brief article does not wrestle with making a distinction between experiential education and experiential learning. As quoted in the New World Encyclopedia, The Association for Experiential Education regards experiential education “as a philosophy and methodology in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills and clarify values”.
Experiential learning is best defined as that process through which students develop knowledge, skills, and values from direct experiences outside a traditional academic setting. This experience does not negate the importance of the theoretical aspects, but makes theory come alive. The advantages of this approach to learning have been written about for centuries, but more recently by such philosophers and theorists of education as John Dewey, Kurt Hahn Kurt Lewin, Jean Piaget and Paul Freire.
On the face of it, it appears elementary and obvious that learning is reinforced when the student is not merely receiving a theoretical experience but is also having a direct ‘experiential’ relationship with the subject matter. When the learner is active in the learning experience, the experience itself becomes more riveting and the likelihood of retention dramatically increases. Nevertheless, the experiential process does not end with the actual doing, but is followed by reflection so that the experience is processed and understood in a reflexive way. In this construction of knowledge, experience reinforces theory and rationality is blended with doing.
This approach to learning changes the role of the teacher and the student. As noted in the Education Encyclopedia : ‘Teachers facilitate the transfer of learning from the experiential activity to the real world, structure the process of reflection for the students in order to derive the most learning from the experience, and ensure that the learning outcomes are reached. Some educators call this shift a move toward student-centered teaching, or a child-centered curriculum. Overall, it means that the students are placed at the center and the teacher's role is to develop methods for engaging the students in experiences that provide them with access to knowledge and practice in particular skills and dispositions. The role of the student is transformed in relation to the role of the teacher. Therefore, the student role becomes more active and involved, with additional responsibility and ownership over the process of learning.’
The link between experiential learning and work readiness is pretty obvious. Employers need well-trained, job-ready graduates and so the more students are immersed in applicable work experience, the better.
In the US, The National Association of Colleges and Employers identified the top skills employers are looking for from recent college graduates in 2018. In order: problem-solving skills, ability to work in a team, communication skills, leadership, strong work ethic, analytic/ quantitative skills, verbal communication skills, initiative, detail-oriented, flexibility/adaptability, technical skills, interpersonal skills, computer skills, creativity, friendly/outgoing personality, tactfulness, entrepreneurial skills/ risk-taker and fluency in a foreign language. The top-five are problem-solving skills, ability to work in teams, written communication, leadership, and a strong work ethic. These are similar to the top ten list of essential 21st Century Employability Skills unearthed by the New World of Work: adaptability, analysis/solution mind-set, collaboration, communication, digital fluency, entrepreneurial mind-set, empathy, resilience, self-awareness and social/diversity awareness. The New World of Work (NWoW) is a 21st-century employability skills curriculum being taught at over 50 community colleges in California. The curriculum provides instruction in 10 key competencies, using work-relevant content.
Classroom experiences are crucial in developing and honing these skills, but, ultimately, it is real-life experiences in workplace settings that will truly prepare our students for employment.
Experiential learning, that is the knowledge and skills acquired and developed outside the traditional collegiate setting by means of experiences including, but not limited to, study abroad programmes, internships, undergraduate research, service-learning, scholarly and creative activities for which the student has not received academic credit, as well as professional work experiences and professional development self-study programmes are vital.
The University College (UCCI) is taking a leading role in providing experiential experiences for it students. It insists that each of its academic department ensures that students, regardless of the programme they are pursuing, gain appropriate workforce involvement and experiences. It stipulates that where appropriate, competency-based assessments be used to determine workforce readiness and that at least two forms of experiential learning are part of the programmes offered by each department.
The University’s emphasis on experiential learning can be seen in such activities as internship placements, the CFA challenge, social work seminars and practicums, work based learning certificate programmes and badging, nursing clinical, travel abroad initiatives, library internships and multiple others. In doing so, it seeks to assure employers of the job readiness credentials of its graduates.