Experiential education (EE) is an approach to learning that bridges theory and practice. Students engage in concrete applied experiences and then reflect on their experiences using the theoretical knowledge they have learned.
What is experiential education?
As a course director, it is likely that you are already engaging your students in some type of experiential education (EE), whether that is through using simulations in the classroom, inviting in a guest lecturer, or engaging students in a community initiative. The pan-university EE Common Language document (2017) provides a common language for describing the variety of EE strategies taking place at York University, and it details three main areas of focus.
Classroom-focused EE exposes students to concrete learning activities that require them to reflect on what they have experienced in relation to concepts/theories being covered in the course. All classroom-focused EE strategies contribute to addressing student learning outcomes. Examples of experiential activities include: films, guest speakers, case studies, simulation and role playing, course-based research, with-in community learning activities.
Community-focused EE strategies give students the opportunity to connect course material with experiences that occur through interactions with partners in the community. Reflection remains a key element which requires students to link the concrete experience with the students’ understanding of theory. All community-focused EE strategies contribute to addressing both student learning outcomes and identified community needs. Categories of community-focused EE include the following:
Community Based Learning (CBL)
Community Based Research (CBR)
Community Service Learning (CSL)
Work-focused EE strategies give students the opportunity to develop competencies and skills and augment the theories/concepts learned in their course/degree programs by getting hands-on work experience within organizational environments. Reflection remains a key element which requires students to link the concrete experience with the students’ understanding of theory. All work-focused EE strategies contribute to addressing degree level expectations, in particular, the student’s ability to demonstrate autonomy and professional capacity. Work-focused EE includes:
Course-Based Placements (CBP)
Program-Based Placements (PBP)
Co-operative Education Programs
Where can I find resources and support?
The Experiential Education Coordinators are your first point of contact for all things EE in the Faculty of Health.
These are some of the ways in which the EE Coordinators can support faculty members:
- Support Course Director (CD) learning and navigation of EE (common language for EE; distinguishing between different types of EE; sharing EE examples)
- Facilitate relationships with existing support and resources (e.g. Teaching Commons)
- Prepare and deliver presentations to support learning around EE (for CDs and students)
- Support brainstorming and identification of EE activities for a course
- Support in identifying suitable reflection activities
- Support Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) applications by reviewing and providing feedback related to EE components
- Support with finding and liaising with suitable community partners
- Support appreciation and recognition mechanisms for community partners
- Support community partner parking pass acquisition
- Support navigating paperwork for affiliation agreements, insurance, liability, etc. (determining and communicating requirements; tracking and storing processes)
- Connect and consult with Office of the Counsel and Risk Management
- Communicate and support completion of police check requirements for students
- Support with navigating website resources for CDs
- Circulate info on EE and community engagement events
- Share stories for YFile, Teaching Commons Newsletter, etc.
- Support promotion of EE courses
- Support sharing of ideas, resources, and best practices
- Support collaborative projects
The Faculty of Health is making available a limited number of free, one-day parking passes to support guest speakers or community partners who may visit your class as part of an Experiential Education activity.
The Faculty of Health EE Coordinators have developed specific examples of EE activities that can take place online/remotely.
The EE Coordinators are available to support instructors in implementing online/remote EE in the following ways:
1. Support faculty and student engagement in online EE
- Connect with resources to support student skill development related to online collaboration, communication and other transferable skills (e.g. help arrange a workshop to build time management skills)
- Support instructors with brainstorming and identifying appropriate EE activities for remote teaching (e.g. running a virtual field trip)
- Support course directors in implementation of online EE (e.g. EE Coordinators serving as ‘sample students’ for instructor to practice use of breakout rooms on Zoom)
2. Support faculty and student engagement in online EE that involves community engagement
- Support logistics of online community engagement (e.g. identify guest speakers/community partners available for online engagement; facilitate logistics of student interviews with professionals as part of course assignments)
- Help identify community-based projects for students to support remotely (e.g. conducting literature reviews on a topic identified by a community partner)
- Identify systems to manage student progress on collaborative projects with partners (e.g. tracking project milestones)
- Facilitate legal and risk management logistics related to online EE (e.g. partnership agreements)
- Support faculty members in accessing funding to support EE (e.g. appreciation mechanisms for community partners)
- Help identify resources and/or supports available to community partners to facilitate online/remote engagement with students (e.g. best practices related to online/remote on-boarding, supervision)
- The Common Language for Experiential Education document (PDF)
- The Teaching Commons has developed resources to help course directors incorporate EE in their courses, including:
- The Student Guide to Experiential Education- A resource to help students learn more about EE, and succeed in EE courses.
- Evaluation rubric for reflection assignments (PDF)
- Simulated Persons Methodology: The website is part of a project led by Eva Peisachovich, Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing. Visit the website to learn more about how to use simulations in the classroom, see examples, access teaching tools, and sign up for upcoming training workshops.
For additional tools and resources please contact an EE Coordinator.
- Teaching Commons: Support and resources around course design, learning outcomes, assessment, teaching strategies, and more. The Teaching Commons also offers EE workshops and the EE Bootcamp, where you can learn how to implement EE in your course.
Contact: Barbara Kerr, Educational Developer
- YU Experience Hub: Pan-university resource containing information for community partners, students and faculty members, and EE examples and testimonials.
- York-TD Community Engagement Centre: Located in York Gate Mall, this satellite office facilitates community partnerships between York University and the Black Creek community.
- Career Centre: Resources and support related to career exploration, professional etiquette, job search and more. The Career Centre may also be able to offer targeted support, like helping your students incorporate their EE experience into their resume.
- Learning Commons: Support and resources for students, related to reading, writing and learning skills. The Learning Commons also offers resources and workshops for faculty members and TAs (e.g. teaching academic literacies).
This is a non-exhaustive list of some past and current EE courses. If a course you have taught is not listed, please contact the EE Coordinator so that it can be added to the list. The EE Coordinator can also help you to use the common language for EE to identify and describe the activities you have included in your course.
How and why should I engage students in experiential education?
Benefits for Course Directors
EE offers a number of benefits for course directors that can potentially enhance teaching, learning, research and service:
- EE provides an opportunity for connecting teaching, service and research [ix]
- Certain forms of EE foster the establishment of community contacts that may be useful for future research collaborations [viii]
- Student projects may generate ideas for future research projects
- EE can be a means for integrating current issues in the course thereby creating more interest on the part of the student
- EE ensures that students have a deeper understanding of key course concepts
- EE engages students as active learners, fostering a higher degree of participation and relevant student contributions to class discussion
Benefits for Students
Experiential education can help students develop and strengthen skills and attributes related to academic performance, civic engagement, and employability.
- Understanding of concepts
- Oral and written expression
- Academic performance
- Multicultural competence
- Interpersonal skills
- Improved attitudes toward social responsibility
- Knowledge exchange and mobilization
- Professional networking opportunities
- More defined career plans
This presentation and literature review prepared for the Department of Psychology outlines some of the findings related to the impact of Experiential Education.
Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle
Simply giving students a concrete experience is not enough to foster critical thinking. An experience alone may not deliver the appropriate lesson unless it is framed and debriefed appropriately. David Kolb (1984) believed that “learning is a process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (p. 38). For Kolb, fostering critical thinking among students around a concrete experience requires appropriate framing and debriefing. His cyclical conceptualization of the Learning Cycle captures this philosophy and consists of four stages. One may begin at any stage, but then must follow in sequence (See Figure below). The phases are:
- concrete experience ( “DO”)
- reflective observation (“OBSERVE”)
- abstract conceptualization (“THINK”)
- knowledge transfer or active experimentation (“PLAN”)
While the cycle is a simplified description of how students learn, it also serves as a course planning tool. In a typical course, a student can go through the cycle once or multiple times, depending on their level of engagement and the intentions of the instructor. It is through the intentional sequencing of activities in line with Kolb’s Cycle that instructors can achieve the dual outcome of teaching course material and fostering critical thinking. Instructors teaching in this manner will also find that, through instructing their students, they too come to realizations and new understandings about their work and subject matter.
Structured reflection is integral to all EE strategies, and it can be defined as any planned activity or exercise that requires students to refer back and critically examine the concrete experience in light of existing theory and/or what is being covered in the course. For example, following a concrete experience, students may have to: explain why certain events occurred; justify the necessity of certain procedures; consider the experience from multiple perspectives; or challenge their assumptions or beliefs. The specific reflection activity or exercise will depend upon the intended learning outcome(s) for the students.
Community partnerships are an essential component of many EE strategies, and like any relationship, they are built on time, trust, and experience. Therefore, where possible, the goal should be to foster an ongoing, reciprocal partnership. A long-term collaboration will yield tremendous results, as each year, you and your partner are able to improve on the student experience.
When establishing a relationship with a community organization, several key factors must be taken into account. These include:
- Your pre-existing relationship with the organization
- The productive overlap between course content and the work the students will do for the organization
- The location of the organization or work site
- The relevant legal procedures required when working with the organization
For help in connecting with a community organization and designing a project, you are encouraged to contact the Experiential Education Coordinator. Other ways to connect with prospective community partners are:
Experiential Education Coordinator
Programs: Kinesiology and Health Science, Health Policy, Management & Systems, Neuroscience
416.736.2100 ext. 40016
Experiential Education Coordinator
Programs: Global Health, Psychology, Nursing
416.736.2100 ext. 40655