From theory to practice: 7 leading experiential learning initiatives in higher education

In this article, we’ll cover the seven most effective examples of experiential learning for colleges and universities.
September 29, 2023
7 min
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Technology-driven shortcuts and access to instant information can create challenges for students in higher education: Instead of pouring hours into research, a simple online search can give them the answers to their assignments in seconds.

The rise of AI-generated papers and the unsettling trend of 'chegging' (finding answers to tests and homework online) can further steer students away from genuine academic pursuits. 

While these resources appear impressive, there's a growing concern that using platforms like ChatGPT makes students produce content that "lacks voice and authentic experience,” diluting the overall richness of genuine scholarly work.

But this reliance on swift solutions is creating a generation that may know how to find answers, but not necessarily how to understand or apply them. True learning is getting pushed aside by the allure of speed and shortcuts.

What if the key isn't in controlling these tools but reshaping our educational approach? What if we provide an engaging experience that quick fixes lose their appeal?

Experiential learning does precisely this. By immersing students in hands-on experiences directly tied to their chosen fields, we're not just teaching them; we're letting them live their lessons. 

In this article, we'll dive into seven transformative examples of experiential learning in higher education, showcasing how this approach is combating academic shortcuts and redefining authentic education and experiences for the modern era. Let's get started.

1. Riipen projects and courses

With an extensive network of over 31,000 businesses and nonprofits, Riipen is the world's premier experiential learning marketplace, serving as a bridge between educators, learners, and industry professionals. 

This powerful platform offers a plethora of authentic work-based projects that are tailored to enhance student learning experiences and student engagement. 

"Riipen helps my students develop real-world experience because they are working with real problems that industry partners have brought to the table. What the students get the opportunity to do is take the theories they develop in the course and figure out which ones apply and how to apply them to the particular problem."

- Tom Culham, Business Instructor, Sauder School of Business at UBC

Educators can choose from a wide range of real-world projects that they can easily integrate into their curriculum. By selecting projects that align with their course goals, educators offer students a dual benefit: the opportunity to gain practical experience by applying what they've learned in class to real-world projects, resulting in a boost in employability skills and outcomes.


  • Diverse opportunities: With 40K+ employer projects available in the Riipen marketplace, educators have a vast range of industries and projects to choose from.
  • Proven outcomes: Riipen has been adopted by more than 430 institutions and training providers to deliver authentic experiences and impactful results.
  • Tangible results: The platform boasts 190K+ learner experiences and 10M+ hours of applied learning.
  • Strategic advantage: Institutions can bolster their reputation through real-world industry engagements, upholding their commitment to innovation and employability.
  • Efficiency: Riipen's streamlined interface allows educators to swiftly connect with myriad organizations and projects.
  • Equitable opportunities for all:

For those keen to delve deeper into this innovative platform's offerings, ample resources are available. Whether you're interested in Project-based Internships, eager to explore the Work-based Learning Programs, or want to learn more about Workforce Development, Riipen has it all. 

Book a demo to get a firsthand experience of how Riipen can transform your educational approach.

2. Internships

For decades, internships have stood as one of the most prevalent and revered practices in higher education. By combining academic learning with practical application, they offer students a structured and supervised glimpse into their prospective fields. 

Typically, students apply and complete an interview process for internships through organizations which they have an interest in working with. If they're lucky, their college or university will have established connections with the company, making this process smoother. 

Despite their consistent popularity, COVID-19 caused a dip in internship participation, dropping from 26.4% in 2019-20 to just 22% in 2020-21. While there are a variety of reasons for the decline, one of the most pressing issues was the lack of opportunities available. 


  • Real-world experience: Despite their limited availability, internships offer a bridge between theory and application.
  • Networking: Fostering professional relationships for future endeavors.
  • Enhanced resume: Providing an edge with a testament to practical experience.

3. Work-based learning programs

While internships involve students working within a company or organization for a set period, often immersing themselves in the day-to-day operations, work-based learning is seamlessly integrated into the academic curriculum. 

Students face real industry challenges in the classroom, making direct connections between their coursework and their future careers.

This distinction offers students the best of both worlds: the safety and structure of an educational environment coupled with the rigor and relevance of real-world projects. It's about bringing the job to the classroom, rather than taking the student out to the job.


  • Authentic experience: Students tackle genuine industry challenges, enhancing their understanding of theoretical concepts.
  • Career clarity: Offers early insight into practical aspects of chosen fields, boosting engagement and potential retention.
  • Equitable opportunities: Levels the playing field for all students, regardless of background, offering everyone a chance to build employability skills and networks.

4. Workforce development programs

Workforce development programs are more intensive and structured than WBL or internships. Their primary objective is not just exposure but skill acquisition, ensuring participants are job-ready for specific roles or industries.

To do this, programs identify skill gaps in the industry and educational institutions to create curricula tailored to meet current job market demands.

This creates a symbiotic relationship where educational institutions get insights straight from industry professionals, ensuring relevant, up-to-date, and effective training.


  • Relevance: With real-time industry insights, training remains attuned to the current demands of the job market.
  • Economic boost: By equipping individuals with the right skills, they contribute to enhanced employment rates and cater to industries' evolving demands.
  • Networking opportunities: They also act as gateways for participants to connect with industry experts and potential employers.

5. High-impact practices

High-impact practices (HIPs) have steadily gained traction in educational circles, recognizing their profound positive effects on student learning, engagement, and retention. 

Defined by George Kuh and his colleagues at the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), HIPs provide students with an immersive learning experience that is often enriched by close collaborations with faculty and peers. 

These practices include:

  • First-year experiences 
  • Common intellectual experiences 
  • Learning communities 
  • Writing-intensive courses 
  • Collaborative assignments and projects 
  • Undergraduate research 
  • Diversity/global learning 
  • Service learning, Community-based learning 
  • Internships 
  • Capstone courses and projects 
  • ePortfolios


6. Career readiness and development

Career readiness programs are structured educational initiatives that prepare students for the transition from academic environments to the professional world. They aim to equip students with both the soft and hard skills required to navigate and succeed in their chosen fields.

Institutions or departments usually collaborate with industry professionals to identify the specific needs of the job market. Courses, workshops, and training sessions are then designed around these needs.


  • Higher employability: Students who undergo these programs often have an edge during job applications due to their well-rounded skillset.
  • Smooth transition: Graduates are better prepared to take on the professional world, reducing the shock of entering a new job.
  • Networking opportunities: Most career readiness programs offer sessions with industry professionals to help students make valuable connections at an early stage.

7. Co-ops

Cooperative education, commonly known as "co-op", elegantly fuses academic coursework with real-world work experiences. By alternating between periods of classroom learning and full-time, paid employment pertinent to a student's field of study, co-ops provide an immediate platform to apply theoretical knowledge in a professional environment. 

Through these structured programs, educational institutions often form partnerships with industries and businesses to ensure students have opportunities for meaningful placements.


  • Network building: Early exposure to the professional world allows students to establish robust networks.
  • Increased job opportunities: Performance during co-op often leads to post-graduation job offers from employers.
  • Skill development: A unique opportunity to hone both specialized and general professional skills.

Closing thoughts

While each of these examples helps to create an educational landscape where students are not just passive recipients but active participants in their learning journey, finding ways to integrate them into the curricula presents its own challenges. 

To get the most out of experiential learning, higher education institutions need access to:

  • A vast network of industry partners to ensure students have a steady stream of authentic real-world projects.
  • A user-friendly platform that simplifies the process of weaving experiential learning directly into classes.
  • Up-to-date insights on current employer needs, ensuring their curriculum remains industry-relevant.
  • A comprehensive support system to enable a smooth integration of these experiences into any course structure.
  • Initiatives aimed at equitable access, ensuring that all students, regardless of their background or financial situation, have opportunities to benefit from experiential learning experiences.


Jump ahead:
Discover just how to implement and scale these practices into your curriculum with Riipen

Discover just how to implement and scale these practices into your curriculum with Riipen

Discover just how to implement and scale these practices into your curriculum with Riipen; schedule a demo today.

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