Improving Experiential Learning in the Online Environment

Improving Experiential Learning in the Online Environment

Nidia Cerna, Daniel Piedra, Heather Pollex, Nathalie Vallee
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4360-3.ch002
(Individual Chapters)
No Current Special Offers


This chapter provides a summary of the design and implementation of experiential learning at McMaster University's Continuing Education Unit within the Human Resources Management Program between its initial launch in 2017 through 2020. The chapter highlights the evolution of the model, its challenges, and improvements over the three-year period through which three versions of the experiential learning project were adapted and improved. The chapter concludes with recommendations for institutions who may be considering the adoption of experiential learning for online adult audiences in post-secondary education. Among the recommendations identified are, to provide clear expectations of the work and roles required by students, industry partners, and instructors. To create a tight-knit design and an implementation team, to provide sufficient training to instructors who will facilitate the process of work-integrated learning, and to adopt an attitude of continuous improvement.
Chapter Preview

Literature Review

The literature points to several benefits of experiential learning. First, it makes learning more relatable to students. Students build on what they already know and are provided with opportunities to make connections between new concepts and existing ones. For the experience to be truly valuable, reflection on the experience, as well as application (Clark et al., 2010) is necessary.

Experiential learning also facilitates a more direct link between theory and practice. Students have the chance to engage in the experience and practice what they have learned, see the application of the theoretical concepts in practice, process that application, and make generalizations. According to McKenzie (2013), education needs more experiential learning to restore a balance to school learning that has drifted more and more to theory and traditional assessments such as tests and exams. While there is a place for such learning, experiential learning focuses on “doing”, often outdoors and in groups, a vital solution to childhood and adolescent lifestyles that are increasingly virtual, insular, and lacking in social relations. McKenzie (2013) reiterates his strong belief that “some of the great challenges of our times, such as environmental degradation and the cultural clashes in globalization, need to be experienced to be fully grasped” (p. 24).

Experiential learning also increases student engagement by encouraging collaboration while providing interaction with professionals who can supplement and enhance the learners’ understanding of a particular topic (Cupit et al., 2014; Scogin et al., 2017).

Further, experiential learning leads to the development of skills for lifelong learning by assisting in the acquisition of essential skills and encouraging students to reflect, conceptualize, and plan for next steps. Research by Bohn & Schmidt (2008) has shown that the metacognitive skills that students utilize while participating in experiential learning allow them to assess their true level of understanding and mastery of the subject matter.

In terms of the validity of experiential learning as compared to more traditional assessment methods, Scogin et al. (2017) found a positive relationship between the experiential program and students’ enjoyment of school and growth in social skills. Students who engaged in experiential learning demonstrated acceptable progression on standardized tests and matched up favorably with their peers in traditional classrooms.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Experiential Learning: The process whereby students are immersed in an experience and then encouraged to reflect on that experience to develop new knowledge, skills, or attitudes.

Assessment: Involves the use of tools or methods to measure student learning.

Group dynamics: Refers to the processes, both behavioural and psychological, that occur when members of a group interact.

Employability Skills: Transferable or “soft” skills that employers view as desirable in an employee.

Evaluation: Refers to the systematic review of a process or initiative to determine areas for future improvement.

Work-Integrated Learning: The process whereby students learn through a combination of academic and work-related experiences.

Continuous Improvement Process: Refers to ongoing efforts to improve a product, service, or process through incremental changes.

Industry Partner: Refers to a company that collaborates with an instructor to create a work-related project that enables students to gain real-world work experience.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: