Experiential Education

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What is it?

Experiential education (EE) is defined and practiced in a variety of ways across disciplines and contexts. The Association for Experiential Education defines it as “a philosophy and methodology in which educators purposely engage learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills and clarify values” (2007). It is best understood as an umbrella term that contains (often overlapping) clusters of pedagogies, including work integrated learning (e.g. internships, co-operative education, apprenticeships), research-based learning (e.g. fieldwork, undergraduate research, applied study), community-engaged learning (e.g. local, global, and international service-learning, justice-learning); immersive learning (e.g. global seminar, study abroad, exchange); Land and place-based learning (e.g. treaty education; outdoor education; adventure based learning); student-led learning (e.g. peer mentorship, student directed seminars, student entrepreneurship); and a variety of (usually classroom based) strategies (e.g. debate, case study, game, role-playing, simulation). Despite widespread disagreement on the conceptual boundaries and meanings of experiential education, The Association for Experiential Education (2019) proposes the following :

"Principles of Practice in Experiential Education"

  • Experiential learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis.
  • Experiences are structured to require the learner to take initiative, make decisions and be accountable for results.
  • Throughout the experiential learning process, the learner is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning.
  • Learners are engaged intellectually, emotionally, socially, soulfully and/or physically. This involvement produces a perception that the learning task is authentic.
  • The results of the learning are personal and form the basis for future experience and learning.
  • Relationships are developed and nurtured: learner to self, learner to others and learner to the world at large.
  • The educator and learner may experience success, failure, adventure, risk-taking and uncertainty, because the outcomes of experience cannot totally be predicted.
  • Opportunities are nurtured for learners and educators to explore and examine their own values.
  • The educator's primary roles include setting suitable experiences, posing problems, setting boundaries, supporting learners, insuring physical and emotional safety, and facilitating the learning process.
  • The educator recognizes and encourages spontaneous opportunities for learning.
  • Educators strive to be aware of their biases, judgments and pre-conceptions, and how these influence the learner.
  • The design of the learning experience includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes and successes.

Along with providing an opportunity for students to apply their knowledge and skills, experiential education can challenge students by presenting what is known as 'novelty space' [1]. Described by Cotton [2] as having four dimensions (cognitive, psychological, geographic, and social), teaching and learning literature appears to be in agreement that the amount of novelty space encountered by students can diminish their ability to meet cognitive learning objectives.

Clusters / Types

Clusters of EE

Resistance and Reconceptualization

The majority of the literature in experiential education and experiential learning cites the aforementioned scholars as foundational thinkers (some sources term them the "fathers of experiential education"). The majority of those thinkers are White, Western, male scholars whose ideas have been historically privileged. In order to expand our understanding of the field and its future, we must also reconsider how we position the past; Part of that endeavour involves reimagining what constitutes experiential education and who came up with the ideas that we consider foundational today. For example, there is a profusion of scholars, community leaders, philosophers, spiritual leaders, and historical figures who have long generated insights on the intersection of experience and learning/education. One of the key differences, perhaps, is that they have not called it "experiential education" or learning as such.

Tara Fenwick (2000) is known for her publications that push for a critical approach to experiential learning and education, and expand the understanding of nuanced, often complex frameworks that may not fit within standard approaches such as those proposed by Kolb (1984) and Schon (1983). In response to Kolb (1984) and Schon (1983)’s body of work that emphasizes critical reflection and dialogue as essential aspects of the learning cycle, Fenwick writes:

Learning is presented as a reflection-action (or mind-body and individual-context) binary: recalling and analyzing lived experience to create mental knowledge structures. Implicit is a process of privatizing, objectifying, ordering, and disciplining experience, a process that inserts governance as a matter of course and naturalizes hierarchies of knowledge and skill. The resulting appropriation and compartmentalization by educators of fluid spaces of human meaning making reifies, essentializes, and narritivizes experience as a knowable resource to be exploited in the service of rationalistic and utilitarian notions of knowledge, splits rational consciousness from messy matters of the body, regulates subjects through technologies such as critical reflection and accreditation of prior learning experience (Michelson, 1996), and often ignores issues of identity, politics, and discursive complexities of human experience (and the problematic of its knowability) unfolding amid what Spivak (1988) has called “fractured semiotic fields.

Fenwick offers a strong starting point for re-examining and reconceptualizing the "foundations" of experiential education. More considerations that form vital aspects of this conversation include:

  • The politics of experiential learning and education
  • Philosophical and spiritual traditions that have been developing (sometimes for millennia) theories of the relationship between human experience and learning
  • Historical controversies in the field of experiential learning
  • Indigenous Pedagogies / ways of knowing and being
  • Decolonizing experiential learning and education
  • Resistance to and reconceptualization of the constructed segregation between the university classroom and the community / world / wilderness

UBC Context (UBC-V and UBC-O)

UBC Vancouver does not currently (in 2020) have an institution-wide definition for EE. Nonetheless, the Strategic Plan emphasizes experiential education in two of its four core areas of focus: Transformative Learning and Local and Global Engagement.  Multiple strategies are closely linked to experiential education including:

Strategy Theme Excerpt from Strategic Plan
13 Practical Learning “Expand experiential, work-integrated, and extended learning opportunities”
14 Interdisciplinary Learning “Facilitate the development of Integrative, problem-focused learning”
16 Public Relevance Support “community-based and action research projects, and learning initiatives that place...students in community settings”
19 Global Networks Support “opportunities for students to study abroad through GoGlobal and other initiatives”
20 Coordinated Engagement “Increase support for students, faculty, and staff working with and in the community”

Although UBC Vancouver's current strategy is to empower faculties and units to conceptualize experiential education in ways that best suit their unique context, UBC Okanagan has collaboratively established their own operational definition of experiential learning. More information on their strategy can be found here.

UBC 2018-2020 Project on Experiential Education

Experiential education (EE) at UBC is a diverse landscape of teaching and learning philosophies and practices. A two-year research project at UBC Vancouver has engaged with hundreds of faculty, staff, students, and community/workplace partners to understand how UBC can enhance its support of EE and the people who are invested in it. The Report & Recommendations document from that project is now publicly available, and has been read by Associate Provost, Teaching and Learning, Simon Bates, and presented to Senate Teaching and Learning Committee to identify next steps. If you have questions about the resource or EE at UBC, contact Dr. Kari Grain [[1]] or Dr. Gillian Gerhard [[2]].



Theoretical Currents

Theoretical currents in EE

UBC Resources

This page contains useful links to Experiential-related resources at UBC.

Teaching and Learning Resources (By Office)

  • Centre for Community Engaged Learning (CCEL) connects communities with UBC faculty and students to work on issues that impact society. Under the broad umbrella of Experiential Learning, CCEL focuses on experiential learning that is centred around community. Email: Community.learning@ubc.ca
  • Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT) works with faculty, students, and staff to strengthen teaching and learning at UBC. A good person to start with is Dr. Gillian Gerhard. Email: gillian.gerhard@ubc.ca.
  • Centre for Student Involvement and Careers (CSIC) is a hub that connects students to experiences, resources, and people that will help them achieve their personal and career goals. Under the umbrella of experiential learning, CSIC works most closely with Work Integrated Learning (e.g. co-ops, work placements, internships, etc.). As a first point of contact, email csic.support@ubc.ca or visit their website.
  • Community Engagement Office works to support and enable community engagement being done across campus, with a focus on external relations. Kat Cureton (kat.cureton@ubc.ca) is a great first point of contact who can send you in the right direction for your needs.

Faculty-Based Teaching and Learning Offices / Resources:

  • Co-op: Co-op is a form of experiential learning that takes the form of paid work experience in a student's field. UBC offers co-op in 7 faculties/departments at UBC: Engineering, Arts, Forestry, Land and Food Systems, Science, Business, and Kinesiology.
    • Engineering Co-op
    • Arts Co-op
    • Forestry
    • Land and Food Systems
    • Science
    • Business
    • Kinesiology
  • The Office of Experiential Education (Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences)
  • Skylight (Faculty of Science)

International & Immersive Experiential Opportunities for Students (Please note: this is not an exhaustive list):

Go Global: This office works in partnership with faculties, courses, and universities around the globe to offer international experiential programs. See:

  • Research Abroad
  • Exchange Programs
  • Global Seminars
  • Summer Abroad
  • International conferences and special programs
  • International Education Practicum (In partnership with the Community Field Experience within the Bachelor of Education Program)

ORICE (Office of Regional, International, and Community Engagement, Faculty of Arts): This office offers international service-learning programs to students from across disciplines within UBC. Although it is housed in Faculty of Arts, students outside of Arts can still be involved.

Coordinated International Experience (Faculty of Applied Science)

Spanish for Community (French, Hispanic, and Italian Studies) - "Spanish for Community is a community-based experiential and service learning initiative in the FHIS, that creates, manage and delivers  course-based, cross-course, and volunteer independent projects and events in partnership with organizations serving the Spanish speaking community in Metro Vancouver as well as organizations linked with Hispanic communities in Central and South America."

Funding Resources for Students

  • UBC Tuum Est Experiential Award is a pilot award that was approved by UBC Senate in February 2017. "The university will offer approximately 200 one-time entrance awards up to $3,500 for domestic students entering from high school to help support their participation in experiential learning opportunities, including co-op, exchange, ISL opportunities and undergraduate research. It was strategically designed in order to attract students to take advantage of what learning opportunities UBC has to offer". The program began in the 2017/18 academic year. (Ubyssey, 2017)

Funding Resources for Faculty

  • Arts Research Abroad (ARA) program is funded by a generous gift from anonymous donors. Through the Faculty of Arts, ORICE, and Go Global, the ARA program sponsors two types of advanced research-intensive courses:  (1) Global Seminars (15-20 students) and (2) International Service Learning Courses (15-20 students). Each year, up to 7 special courses are funded, with some funds going toward subsidies for student participants. Students enrolled in the ARA courses are eligible to apply for ARA funding to partially cover program costs.

Connections and Collaborations (Groups)

Community Engaged Scholars (CES) Group: Comprised of interdisciplinary faculty, staff, and students, this group gathers regularly to discuss and share community engagement news and issues. Contact UBC's Office of Community Engagement for more information.

Other Useful UBC Links & Blogs

Original Experiential Education Blog (from which this Wiki page content is premised): blogs.ubc.ca/experiential

Community Engaged Learning blog (run by UBC Professor, Dr. Alison Taylor) is aimed at helping people who are new to Community Engaged Learning. It features a locally developed podcast and a number of Vancouver-specific resources.

External Resources & Hubs

Experiential Learning Toolkit (By Niagara College)

CEWIL Canada Definitions

BCCAT Experiential Education Challenges and Opportunities Report

Williams College Experiential Education Glossary

Adock et al. (2014) Glossary of experiential education terms in Law


AEE (Association for Experiential Education) (n.d.).  What is experiential education?  [Online resource].  Accessed 18 October 2019 from http://www.aee.org/what-is-ee.

Astin, A. W., Vogelgesang, L. J., Ikeda, E. K., & Yee, J. A. (2000).  How service learning affects students.  Accessed October 18, 2019 from:  https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/slcehighered/144

Biesta, G. (2013). Interrupting the Politics of Learning. Power and Education, 5(1), 4–15.

Eyler, J., Giles, D. E. Jr., Stenson, C. M., & Gray, C. J. (2001).  At a glance:  What we know about the effects of service-learning on college students, faculty, institutions and communities, 1993-2000 (3rd ed.). Retrieved 18 October 2019 from https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/slcehighered/139

Gallup-Purdue Index Report (2014).  Great jobs great lives:  A study of more than 30,000 college graduates across the U.S. Washington, DC:  Gallup, Inc.

Grain, K. (2019). Mapping the field. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blogs.ubc.ca/experiential/mapping-el/

Grain, K. (2019). Resistance and Reconceptualization. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blogs.ubc.ca/experiential/resistance-reconceptualization/

Grain, K.M., Katumba, T., Kirumira, D., Nakasiita, R., Nakayanga, S., Nankya, E., Nteza, V., & Ssegawa, M. (2019). Co-constructing knowledge in Uganda: Host community conceptions of service-learning relationships. Journal of Experiential Education, 42(1), 22-36.

Grain, K. M., & Lund, D. E. (2016). The social justice turn:  Cultivating “critical hope” in an age of despair.  Michigan Journal of Service-Learning, 23(1), 45-59.

Johnston, N., & Sator, A. J. (2017). Experiential education in BC post-secondary institutions: Challenges and opportunities. Vancouver, BC:  British Columbia Council on Admissions and Transfer (BCCAT).

Kramer, M., & Usher, A. (2011).  Work Integrated learning and career ready students:  Examining the evidence. Toronto, ON:  Higher Education Strategy Associates. 

Kuh, G. (2008).  High-impact educational practices.  Washington, DC:  Association of American Colleges & Universities.

Moon, J. (2004). A handbook of reflective and experiential learning: Theory and practice. London, England: RoutledgeFalmer.

Roberts, J.W. (2012). Beyond learning by doing: Theoretical currents in experiential education. New York, NY: Routledge.

Schenck, J., & Cruickshank, J. (2015).  Evolving Kolb:  Experiential education in the age of neuroscience.  Journal of Experiential Education, 38(1),73-95

Sens, A. & Fryer, M. (2012). Enriched Educational Experiences at UBC: A Framework for Dialogue and Action. University of British Columbia. Retrieved from http://vpstudents.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2012/07/E3_framework_report_2012_final.pdf

Tee P. L. K., & Kalidas C. S. (2016) Positive impacts of service learning on students’ personal outcome and social outcome. In S. Tang & L. Logonnathan (Eds.) Assessment for learning within and beyond the classroom. Singapore: Springer.

  1. Orion, N. and Hofstein, A. (1994), Factors that influence learning during a scientific field trip in a natural environment. J. Res. Sci. Teach., 31: 1097-1119.
  2. Debby R. E. Cotton (2009) Field biology experiences of undergraduate students: the impact of novelty space, Journal of Biological Education, 43:4, 169-174,

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