How to implement experiential learning to achieve the best academic results in higher education

October 27, 2023
4 min
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Higher educational institutions and educators are constantly on the hunt for innovative strategies to elevate the learning experience. 

They want to ensure that students don't just learn, but apply their knowledge in real-world contexts, making them industry-ready upon graduation. However, knowing the solution and implementing it are two different beasts. 

So, how can academic institutions effectively infuse experiential learning into their curriculum, empowering students while also making the institution more appealing to future enrollees? The answer lies in experiential learning

In this article, we'll dive deeper into the intricacies of experiential and provide you with the essentials you'll need to implement it. 


The core principles of experiential learning

Introduced by American educational theorist David A. Kolb, experiential learning is a dynamic approach based on the idea that individuals learn best when involved actively in the learning process. The theory is often illustrated as a four-stage learning cycle:

  • Concrete experience where learners are directly involved in a new experience.
  • Reflective observation where learners contemplate and reflect on the experience they've had.
  • Abstract conceptualization where learners then form or adjust theories, models, or concepts based on their reflections.
  • Active experimentation where learners apply their new understanding in different situations to test the validity of their conceptualizations.

This cycle isn't a one-off journey. The insights from the active experimentation stage fuel the next round of experiences, setting the stage for perpetual learning.

What sets experiential learning apart is its ability to provide rich, multi-layered experiences. By engaging with material actively and reflectively, learners gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Think of it as a bridge between the classroom's safety and the unpredictability of the real world. 

Learners acquire theoretical knowledge and gain invaluable benefits like improved employability, enhanced real-world problem-solving abilities, and developed soft skills such as communication and teamwork. 

Experiential learning comes in many forms, including internships, workshops, simulations, and more, each offering unique insights into the complexities and challenges of the workplace. 

6 ways to implement experiential learning at colleges and universities

The demand for immersive and authentic learning experiences is greater than ever, particularly in higher education. In fact, 79% of students believe having on-the-job learning experiences during their higher education coursework is important.  

Experiential learning creates the opportunity to practice and apply knowledge and skills in a real-world setting that students crave. Let's delve into some of the most effective ways colleges and universities can incorporate this transformative approach into their curriculum.

1. Project-based learning

Project-based learning (PBL) is a dynamic approach where students actively explore and solve real-world challenges, often working in teams. The simplest ways to implement it include: 

  1. Identify real-world problems that align with course objectives. This could be done by reaching out to existing industry partners or utilizing platforms like Riipen to tap into a vast network of available projects.
  2. Provide students with the tools, resources, and guidance needed to tackle these challenges.
  3. Facilitate regular feedback sessions and presentations, allowing students to showcase their work and reflect on the process.


  • Encourages critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration.
  • Allows students to take ownership of their learning.
  • Provides tangible outcomes or portfolios that students can showcase to potential employers.

2. Internships

These job-related experiences allow students to gain hands-on work experience in a professional environment, often directly related to their field of study. In most cases, they are short-term and provide a chance to try out a chosen career path.

To implement them, institutions often need to: 

  1. Establish partnerships with local businesses and industries related to students' fields of study.
  2. Set clear guidelines for what the experience should entail, ensuring it's beneficial for both the student and the organization.
  3. Offer academic credit for meaningful work experiences.
  4. Ensure periodic check-ins between faculty advisors and interns to maximize the learning experience.


  • Provides students with hands-on experience and professional networking opportunities.
  • Bridges the gap between academic learning and real-world application.
  • Increases student employability post-graduation.

3. Cooperative education experiences

Co-ops are more extensive than internships, spanning multiple semesters. These (typically) paid experiences closely integrate academic learning with work. Students receive ongoing advising, and the co-op is tailored to meet their academic or career goals.

Like internships, higher education institutions often need to:

  1. Form partnerships with businesses and industries.
  2. Align work experiences with academic goals.
  3. Facilitate regular reflections to integrate work experience with academic learning.


  • Offers deeper immersion in the industry, leading to robust professional development.
  • Enhances student employability with extended experience.
  • Strengthens ties between universities and the industry.

4. Practicum/Field placements

Practicums, or field placements, are structured, supervised experiences where students apply previously studied theories in real-world professional settings. To incorporate these into your coursework, you'll need to:

  1. Partner with experts in relevant fields, ensuring a rich learning experience for students.
  2. Establish guidelines that clearly state the roles, expectations, and assessment criteria. 
  3. Arrange consistent feedback sessions, linking the practicum experience with classroom teaching. This might involve students sharing case studies, presenting findings, or discussing challenges faced.


  • Bridges the gap between theory and practice.
  • Offers networking opportunities.
  • Provides insight into industry dynamics and expectations.

5. Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are structured programs that blend on-the-job training with academic instruction, often leading to a formal qualification. Apprentices work closely with experienced professionals, gaining invaluable insights into their chosen trade. To implement them, colleges and universities often need to:

  1. Forge relationships with industries specific to the apprenticeship in question.
  2. Develop a curriculum that incorporates both hands-on training and theoretical study. 
  3. Ensure a balance between practical training and academic study. While the hands-on experience is vital, grounding it in theory ensures a deeper understanding.


  • Provides intensive industry-specific training.
  • Increases employability and makes it easier to transition into full-time roles post-training.
  • Ensures that what is learned in the classroom is immediately applied on the job, reinforcing both practical skills and theoretical knowledge.

6. Service learning experiences

Service learning involves students working on societal issues like homelessness or pollution. Both students and the community benefit from this program. It's a blend of job performance, learning, and deep reflection. To bring these into the curriculum, institutions often need to:

  1. Identify local community challenges that align with course objectives.
  2. Partner with community organizations to facilitate these experiences.
  3. Guide students in reflection, ensuring they grasp the broader societal implications of their work.


  • Develops civic-minded graduates with a broader worldview.
  • Reinforces academic concepts with tangible community impact.
  • Boosts student personal growth and empathy.

Best practices for integrating experiential learning

The integration of experiential learning into traditional teaching is not just a method; it's an art. With the right balance, educators can offer students a comprehensive approach to learning that's rooted in active participation, personal growth, and reflection. 

Here are some strategic tips to seamlessly blend these teaching methods:

1. Accept a facilitator role

Shift from a teacher-centric approach to a facilitator role. Let students be active participants in their learning journey, guiding them rather than directing them.

2. Blend practical experiences with theory 

Identify experiences where students can apply theoretical knowledge. This approach not only enhances their understanding but also boosts their interest and personal commitment to the learning process.

3. Plan with purpose 

Ensure that any experiential learning activity ties back to the course's objectives. This helps students understand the relevance and importance of the experience in the context of their studies.

4. Prepare comprehensive materials 

While experiential learning often requires students to explore on their own, providing them with relevant resources, such as readings, worksheets, and rubrics, can guide them toward meaningful discoveries.

5. Foster peer collaboration 

Encourage students to rely more on their peers, promoting teamwork, shared discoveries, and cooperative problem-solving.

6. Continuous evaluation and feedback 

Utilize both formative (ongoing) and summative (end-of-experience) assessments. Let students self-evaluate their progress, but also consider incorporating peer assessments, observations, and journals to gauge the effectiveness of the experiential activity.

7. Debrief and reflect 

Post-experience discussions, reflections, and debriefing sessions are invaluable. They help reinforce and extend the learning process, allowing students to draw connections, internalize lessons, and prepare for future challenges.

8. Leverage digital platforms

In today's tech-driven world, there are various platforms available to streamline the experiential learning process. Riipen is a pioneering leader among them. It's specifically designed to simplify experiential learning integration and dissolve the traditional confines of locality and proximity.

By connecting educators with over 31,000 industry partners from diverse locations and sectors, it provides students with an unparalleled opportunity to work on current, real-world projects. Educators can browse through a wide range of projects through customized dashboards like this:

With its user-friendly interface and comprehensive resources, Riipen ensures that every student, irrespective of their background or location, gets an equal chance to access their vast marketplace of industry projects. 

Here’s what Tyson Bilton, a multidisciplinary student at the University of Calgary had to say about about the platform’s ease of use:

“I found the online platform and the dashboard really easy to use. It was clear what I needed to complete in order to check the project off. The expectations were clear from the beginning so I didn’t need any resources ahead of time.”

Every participant has their own dashboard and profile page that lets them easily access information about their available resources and projects. This makes it easier than ever to keep track of progress and tasks. Here’s a quick peek at what an individual profile looks like:

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected and industries evolve at breakneck speeds, educators are finding ways to provide their students with a modern, boundless learning experience. And with Riipen by your side, you're not just preparing students for the world; you're giving them the tools to reshape it.


Jump ahead:

Key takeaways

  • Experiential learning bridges the gap between classroom theory and real-world application, enhancing understanding and employability.
  • Institutions can adopt various forms of experiential learning, from project-based learning and internships to service learning experiences, each providing unique real-world insights and benefits.
  • For successful integration, educators should adopt a facilitator role, blend theory with hands-on experience, and leverage digital platforms like Riipen for continuous engagement and feedback.

To learn more about how you and your students can tap into global opportunities from their classrooms, schedule a demo with Riipen today.

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