Experiential Learning in a Course

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

Build experiential learning into the fabric of your course

While it can be tempting to view experiential learning as the opportunities that happen “out there,” every course can include an experiential learning component through applied and meaningful projects—ones that students might even include on their résumés.

How do experiential projects enhance motivation and learning?

When students have made connections between their prior experiential learning activities and relevant course content and skills, providing another context for application can help students strengthen these connections (Ambrose et al., 2010). If the new context offers experiential learning, such as service-learning, this can also increase students’ motivation because their efforts will have a real-world impact (Svinicki, 2004).

Leverage existing real-world partners through the Center for Community Service (Service-Learning)

The Center for Community Service maintains a network of community partners with diverse profiles and needs. Connecting these real-world cases and needs with the expertise your students have developed through experiential learning can create a group-project experience with real-world impact. For example, math students worked with a community tutoring center to organize and analyze participant records to help the center understand the impact their tutoring was having and make a strong case to funding agencies

Design projects that encourage reflection and self-assessment

While “learning by doing” is exciting and fun, that learning is enhanced substantially by a reflective process in which learners extrapolate and generalize their learning before seeking to apply it in another experience (Kolb, 2014). Instructors are well-placed to scaffold reflection via projects and assignments, and help students learn to self-assess in the process.

How reflection and self-assessment support success

In becoming self-directed and life-long learners, students need to be able to reflect on and identify their own strengths and weaknesses (Ambrose et al., 2010). These habits of mind and skills help students know when to seek help to learn important new skills, decide which challenges they can successfully tackle next, and recognize areas in which they truly excel. When students apply those skills to both academic and experiential contexts, they are more likely to succeed and learn optimally.

Ask students to create a portfolio of work from the course and their experiential learning activities

Have students assemble a collection of work—from both the course and their experiential learning activities—and write a narrative that explains the knowledge and skills that the items demonstrate individually and as a whole. In assembling of portfolio of their own work, students must choose pieces that demonstrate their knowledge and skills across contexts. By writing a narrative that describes what the portfolio pieces are meant to demonstrate, students can practice articulating their strengths for future employers and co-op supervisors. This can also help students identify what they would like to include or represent in their portfolio—and thus what they should focus their efforts on in the future.



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.

Kolb, D.A. (2014). Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, 2nd Ed. New York, NY: Pearson.

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