Before the Semester

Telegraph the XL connection

This post is one in a series on leveraging students’ prior knowledge from experiential learning in your course.

In the Syllabus: Experiential Learning Integration Learning Outcomes

To communicate the importance of linking their past experiential learning activities to your course, include an explicit learning outcome about it on your syllabus. Be sure to include this outcome when you go over the syllabus with students at the first class meeting.

Why Include Experiential Learning Outcomes?

Explicit learning outcomes, when used actively throughout the semester and tied to the learning activities of the course, help students focus on information and concepts more germane to those goals, thereby making their learning more effective (Rothkopf & Billington, 1979). The explicitness of a goal can also help students monitor their own progress toward it—if you know your destination, it’s easier to tell when you haven’t yet arrived.

Learning outcomes that help students build conceptual bridges between their future or prior experiential learning can increase their value for your course content, thereby enhancing their motivation to succeed in your course (Ambrose et al., 2010). For example, when students recognize specific and concrete ways that your course is preparing them for future experiential learning opportunities, achieving the goal of mastering that content or skill is perceived as having a high “utility value,” which is very motivating (Svinicki, 2004). Retrospectively, when your course content can help students better understand why certain things occurred during previous experiential learning activities, they are motivated to master the content so that they will be more empowered to handle similar situations in the future.

When your learning outcomes target high utility-value skills or concepts that are directly relevant to past and future experiential learning opportunities, and you leverage those outcomes as explicit goals to direct student attention and self-evaluation throughout the semester, students are better prepared to succeed in your course and beyond.


Learning outcomes that integrate students’ experiential learning with course content should be phrased in terms of what students will do (create, produce, write, etc.). There are many ways to phrase this outcome, such as “Student should be able to articulate in writing how course content would apply during a previous experiential learning activity” or “Students should be able to identify how theories related to course content were represented during past experiential learning activities.” Then, build in an assessment of that outcome near the end of the semester, and opportunities for students to practice the target behavior along the way.



Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C., & Norman, M.K. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rothkopf, E.Z., & Billington, M.J. (1979). Goal-guided learning from text: Inferring a descriptive processing model from inspection times and eye movements. Journal of Educational Psychology, 71(3), 310-327.

Svinicki, M.D. (2004). Learning and motivation in the postsecondary classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.