Embracing the power of experiential learning in higher education: a path to enhanced student outcomes

Discover the benefits of incorporating experiential learning in higher education, including improved student engagement and job readiness. Learn more now.
August 10, 2023
7 mins
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Have you ever felt like your learners are eager to expand their in-class learnings by applying their knowledge to real-world challenges while gaining experience and building applicable skills? You are not alone. 

Many educators are seeking and experimenting with strategies to enhance their traditional teaching methods, engage students, and provide them with the skills for college and career success. 

Many are turning to experiential and work-based learning. But what is it, and how can you incorporate it into your instruction? 

Key takeaways

  • With experiential learning, get the chance to put their theoretical knowledge into practice by solving real-world problems, honing their skills, and gaining greater insights from their education.
  • In the classroom, educators can incorporate experiential learning through high-impact practices, such as apprenticeships, practicums, internships, work-based learning, cooperative education, and service learning. 
  • Riipen makes it easy for educators to connect with businesses and create experiential learning opportunities for students with real work projects. 

What is experiential learning in higher education?

In the context of higher learning, experiential learning is an educational approach that emphasizes the importance of learning through direct experience and active engagement with real-world situations. 

Rather than reading about a concept and/or hearing a lecture, this approach offers students opportunities to put their theoretical knowledge into practice by solving real-world problems, honing their skills, and gaining a more profound understanding of themselves and the world.

While commonly leveraged in science, engineering, business, and the arts, experiential learning can be integrated into virtually any course.

The role of the instructor is crucial in this approach. Instead of being the sole source of knowledge, instructors act as facilitators, designing experiences that challenge students and provide opportunities for reflection and discussion.

As for the students, their role is to actively engage in the learning process and be willing to step outside their comfort zones and try new approaches, so they can develop new skills, gain a deeper understanding of course material, and prepare themselves for future challenges.

The main benefits of experiential learning in higher education

1. Enhanced learning outcomes

The experiential learning process improves student learning outcomes by enhancing the retention and relevancy of the theoretical concepts taught in class. 

By engaging in practical activities, students strengthen highly valued skills that benefit students throughout their lives and in the workplace, such as:

  • Critical thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Decision-making 
  • Communication
  • Team Work

2. Improved career readiness for all learners

Experiential learning exposes all students to real-world scenarios and develops essential skills that, in turn, make them more competitive in the marketplace. 

Through practical, hands-on experiences, students develop skills that make them more attractive to employers, including: 

  • Effective communication and teamwork abilities
  • Project management and organization experience
  • Technical and practical skills in their field of study
  • Ethical and professional behavior in the workplace

3. Personal growth and development

Aside from enhanced educational and professional development, this learning method also positively affects the student’s personal life, offering possibilities for personal growth and fulfillment.

Through diverse experiences, students can broaden their perspectives, challenge assumptions, and gain a greater appreciation for diversity. This approach also fosters the development of:

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Empathy
  • Self-awareness
  • Leadership skills
  • Resilience
  • Adaptability

Experiential learning opportunities in higher education

There are many opportunities for educators to incorporate experiential learning into the classroom, such as: 

  • Apprenticeships: These provide structured training programs that combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction, allowing students to gain practical skills and knowledge through hands-on experience.
  • Practicums: These practical experiences (offered independently or through your university) allow students to apply theoretical knowledge from the classroom to real-world situations while also offering valuable networking opportunities.
  • Internships: Many colleges and universities offer internship programs, even virtual ones, where students can gain practical experience by working with professionals in their chosen industry.
  • Cooperative education (co-op): Co-op programs help students build contacts and experience in their field and typically let students alternate between classes and full-time work.
  • Service-learning: Service-learning is a teaching strategy combining community service with academic instruction, where students participate in activities that address community needs while learning course content and developing skills.
  • Work-based Learning: This educational strategy enables students to gain real-world experience while still in school.
  • Workforce Development: These initiatives aim to equip individuals with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the workforce via training programs, professional development, job placement, etc.
  • Simulation Exercises: Students perform simulation exercises to experience real-world scenarios, which will prepare them for their future careers.

How to integrate experiential learning in colleges and universities

Incorporating experiential learning opportunities in higher education is necessary to optimize your students’ education and develop the next generation of professionals. 

Here are some key steps you need to take to implement this type of learning.

Step 1: Identify learning outcomes and objectives

To get started, identify the learning outcomes and objectives you want to achieve through experiential learning. These should be aligned with the goals of the course or program. This will help you determine what types of hands-on experiences will be most beneficial for your students.

For example, educators can use Riipen’s platform to select real-world projects based on the skills and knowledge they want their students to develop in order to identify learning outcomes and objectives.

Step 2: Develop experiential learning opportunities

Once you have a clear idea of your goals, you can start developing experiential learning opportunities that will help learners achieve these goals. Riipen’s platform has access to a wide range of industry projects posted on its platform from extensive partnerships with businesses and employers. 

Step 3: Integrate experiential learning into the curriculum

Then, you’ll want to think about how you can integrate these opportunities into your curriculum. 

You might design courses that incorporate experiential learning activities that focus specifically on hands-on, real-world experiences to prepare students for success in their future careers.

For example, Riipen’s tools for remote collaboration allow you to seamlessly integrate real employer projects into your curriculum and work with a variety of industry partners via virtual collaboration spaces. So learners can complete projects from local and global employers no matter where they are located. 

Step 4: Train faculty and staff

To successfully integrate experiential learning, it is essential that your faculty and staff are on board. They’ll need to be trained in experiential learning pedagogy and best practices, and given the resources/support they need to develop and implement these opportunities.

Riipen can help train faculty and staff by providing resources and support for developing and implementing experiential learning activities, as well as access to a network of industry partners who can provide guidance and feedback.

Step 5:  Evaluate and assess experiential learning

Finally, evaluating and assessing your experiential learning programs and activities is important to ensure they’re meeting your goals. 

To ensure that your experiential learning opportunities are as effective as possible, you can collect data about student learning and development, as well as receive feedback from students, faculty, and community partners.

Riipen can assist in evaluating and assessing experiential learning programs and activities by providing tools for tracking student progress and feedback from industry partners, as well as data on the effectiveness of the projects completed by students.

Challenges in implementing experiential learning in higher education

Even though experiential learning is highly beneficial, there are still some challenges in implementation, such as:

1. Limited access to companies committed to working with students

One of the biggest challenges is finding and securing partnerships with companies that are willing to work with students. 

Without access to a wide variety of companies, students cannot apply their learning to the real world, resulting in a lack of engagement and limited skill development. While many factors contribute to this, the most common are:

  • Finding companies takes too much time, especially for faculty and staff unfamiliar with the industry.
  • Cold email/sales outreach may not always work.
  • The shift to online learning has made it even harder to connect with companies that are willing to offer remote opportunities.

However, Riipen’s innovative platform offers educational institutions access to over 27,000 employers, making it easier for faculty and students to connect with employers without the need for cold calling or recruiting industry partners. 

The platform streamlines the process of finding companies and scoping projects, which makes it easier for faculty to bring experiential learning to the classroom. Even online students can connect with experiential learning opportunities using Riipen, regardless of their location.

2. Limited faculty uptake/usage

Another challenge is actually getting the faculty and staff to adopt experiential learning. This might be due to:

  • A lack of resources
  • Budget constraints
  • Department head buy-in 
  • Hesitation to try new teaching methods/Not seeing the value of experiential learning

This can result in no one in the role to champion change, relying only on a small portion of the faculty to drive it.

But with a user-friendly and intuitive platform like Riipen’s, it’s easy for every faculty member to incorporate experiential/work-based learning into their courses. Plus, with access to flexible pricing and responsive customer support, your staff will have everything they need to implement experiential learning fully. 

3. Lack of experiential learning projects for students

When there aren't enough projects available for students to work on (particularly in remote learning environments), it’s challenging to implement experiential learning in the first place. 

One solution to this problem is to leverage technology platforms like Riipen, which connects students with a wide variety of companies and projects, regardless of their location.

By utilizing platforms like Riipen, schools can provide more experiential learning opportunities for all students, even in remote/online learning environments.

Explore Riipen’s work-based learning marketplace

As you can see, incorporating experiential learning into your curriculum doesn’t have to be challenging if you have the right platform—and Riipen is the industry-leading solution.

The Riipen platform connects over 450 educational institutions, 27,000 employers, and 100,000 learners to make it easy to find and create effective work-based learning opportunities.

By using the marketplace, you can provide all of your students with hands-on experience in their field of study, enhance their resumes with real-world projects, and help them build valuable connections in their industry.

Here’s how it works:

If you are an educator interested in learning more about how Riipen can help you leverage experiential learning in your curriculum, schedule a demo with us today.

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