Learning typically results in increased student knowledge. In Experiential Learning (EL), students’ knowledge is accompanied by competency in applying the knowledge skillfully because of four essential elements of EL:

  • Doing: Students apply their knowledge by doing (active learning) in a situation with some unpredictable factors that require student decision-making.
  • Context: The application occurs in an authentic context, where students need to make decisions about what is important and the best path forward. This may include an authentic problem, a real client whom students will help, or an audience beyond the class.
  • Feedback: Students get information about how well they are learning as the learning occurs, and adjust their thinking, actions etc. in response as they learn.
  • Reflection: Students consider the success of their approaches, generalizing what worked and considering how to improve as they learn.



It is possible for students to have an experience, but not engage in experiential learning. Considering the role of context, feedback and reflecting can distinguish helpful active learning from EL.

Types of EL

Experiential learning occurs in the intersection between the disciplinary domain and the context of the experience.

Domain refers to the types of disciplinary praxis (thinking and practice combined) that underly disciplinary competency.

Context, the place where the EL occurs, shapes the types of experiences and their relative complexity.

Preparing students to be ethical professionals and citizens in their local communities and the globalized world, requires strategies for developing respectful communication, collaboration, and relationship-building skills across diverse groups, cultures, and contexts. Students need the ability to consider problems and issues from a range of approaches, perspectives, theories, and worldviews, and find innovative solutions to benefit others and themselves. Also essential are opportunities for students to explore authentic contexts without pre-determined results, to build their resilience and tolerance for ambiguity; all are competencies necessary for living and working in a global society. 

Intercultural teaching approaches embedded into experiential learning enrich student learning and support those who are culturally, socially, linguistically or in other ways different from the educator or each other. Educators can model foundational intercultural competencies and shape learning spaces where students discuss, give feedback, and build relationships with their peers and mentors. Learning activities and materials that go beyond prevailing disciplinary paradigms help scaffold students’ intercultural skills. Designing assessments for choice and validation of cultural differences in communication styles improves opportunities for student success, while encouraging them to take responsibility for their learning.

Experiential learning is an essential part of Indigenous teaching and learning, and therefore a natural connection exists between Indigenous pedagogy and the experiential learning framework. Learning takes place in an authentic context that is relevant to future work and life experiences. The learner moves from beginner (novice) to mastery (expert) as they apply new skills, concepts, and knowledge to more complex problems. Ongoing reflection on experience is modelled and necessary for growth. The learner receives consistent and specific feedback from a variety of sources, inside and beyond the classroom, including community members. Learning benefits the community regardless of the age or role of the learner. 

When you consider indigenizing experiential learning, much of what is required of the learner is also required of you as the instructor. Reflection on part of instructors will build recognition of unconscious bias and social position for the benefit of Indigenous learners. The reflective educator will foster safe spaces (physical, emotional, intellectual & spiritual) to ensure mutual learning and building trust. The need to support EL with Indigenization will be measured by increased success for Indigenous students and a move to grow the number of non-Indigenous learners who know the truth of the collective histories and contemporary realities of Métis, First Nation, and Inuit people. 

EL in your course

Experiential Learning resources:

Curricular programming

Hands-on experiential learning opportunities like research, volunteering, summer and part-time jobs, study abroad, and internships all complement students’ in-class university experience and are great ways to develop professional skills.

RBC Learn to Work, Work to Learn program is a part of RBC Future Launch, helps students develop necessary skills to enter the workforce and enhance opportunities to advance in their career. With a primary focus on developing skills in networking, communication, negotiation, professionalism and critical thinking; students are given the opportunity to network and gain insight from employers in their industry of interest.

Career Services in partnership with the College of Agriculture and Bioresources and the College of Kinesiology provide a skills-focused learning course for students before, during and after summer work experience under the shared guidance of industry mentors and faculty facilitators. Built around the summer experience and offered throughout the academic year are numerous employment workshops, seminars and industry networking events to enhance student learning through professional practice and direct mentorship. 

For more information, contact Ali Wehrkamp, Experiential Learning Coordinator.

Riipen is available to be used by faculty and instructors in any course looking to incorporate experiential learning via work-integrated learning, community-engaged learning, placements, internships, or practica. It can be used to streamline existing partnerships and to find new ones locally, nationally, and internationally. It provides an all-in-one platform for connecting, communicating, sharing documents, and managing deadlines between stakeholders (instructors, students, and community/industry partners).  

For more information, contact Kim Matheson.

Future Skills Innovation Network (FUSION) is a part of the federally funded Future Skills Centre (FSC), is a national network of six Canadian universities focused on exploring innovative and inclusive experiential learning approaches to foster skill development and prepare university students to join a rapidly evolving world of work. The FUSION Skill-Development Curriculum is an interactive and engaging 10-hour online, self-study curriculum designed to wraparound and complement a student’s existing experiential learning opportunity (e.g., internship, student leadership role, research project, part-time job, volunteer placement, or summer work term). The FUSION curriculum focuses on helping students enhance skills across three critical 21st century skill domains: Metacognition, Problem Solving, and Communication.

For more information, contact Kim Matheson.


The Teaching and Learning Innovation Fund is a strategic fund intended to provide academic units with support for program level curriculum, assessment or instructional change initiatives and projects including experiential learning. Click the button below for further details.

Getting Help

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You may be connected with the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning, Career Services, or another group depending on the nature of your request.