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Why Experiential Learning?

Experiential learning (EL) is not a new concept. As far back as 350 BC, Artistotle wrote, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by building and lyre players by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.” 1 

But, just “doing” something does not make it experiential or learning.  Kolb’s learning cycle2, a model commonly used to describe experiential learning, emphasizes reflection and engaging in an iterative process to create learning.  

The process demands students to be active participants in the learning.  Consequently, students are more engaged in the learning process, and the deep learning develops the skills and attributes students will need to succeed after graduation by providing them the opportunity to apply the theory and knowledge they acquire in the classroom.

Numerous studies have demonstrated significant benefits to students, faculty, institutions and the community.  Here is a collection of the most commonly cited benefits of experiential learning:  

Student Benefits

  • Increases motivation and engagement, encouraging self-directed learning;
  • Facilitates the exploration of the relationship between academic theory and practice, increasing clarity around academic and career goals;
  • Increases understanding and perceptions around workplace cultures; Enhances professional networks;
  • Helps students better understand work realities and expectations;
  • Provides opportunity to gain career-related experiences, clarifying employment and career goals;
  • Builds leadership, technical, and professional skills;
  • Increases confidence, maturity, and self-management; Improves problem-solving, critical thinking, research, communication, and teamwork skills;
  • Develops skills to transition to the workforce; In cases of paid placements, provides earnings to assist with financial obligations; and
  • Builds citizenship skills.

Overall, this study abroad experience has been transformative, I have learned many skills, and lastly, I have learned another way of living and approaches in regards to kinesiology. I want to encourage and motivate others to live a fit and healthy lifestyle. In addition, continue to share my experience of studying abroad in hopes others are inspired by it to travel, continuously seek education and learn from other cultures. - N. Ngo, Kinesiology Undergraduate Student

Faculty /Institutional Benefits

  • Attracts and retains high quality students; 
  • Strengthens links between the institution and the business, government and community organizations; 
  • Enhances reputation of the institution within the employment community; 
  • Aligns with government priorities; 
  • Increases employability of graduates, thereby increasing institutional employment rates; 
  • Increases alumni engagement as community partners; 
  • Increases partnership opportunities and financial support towards EL from community partners; 
  • Increases educator satisfaction; 
  • Helps faculty keep their knowledge current; and 
  • Provides opportunity to evaluate and improve curriculum.

[M]y study abroad trips have resulted in more than $1.5 million in external research grants directly related to the data collected on those trips, numerous publications (in addition to my main research) on the perceived and realized benefits of high-impact experiences, private donations by former students and other friends of the institution, and my repatriation back to Canada.
Study abroad also opened new avenues for me as a coastal geomorphologist. The proof-of-concept data collected by students on a study abroad trip in 2014 resulted in a new research collaboration with scientists at the Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica on rip currents. This work is being used to inform legislation to establish a lifesaving association and fund lifeguards on the major tourist beaches in the country. Contrary to what some may believe, study abroad and a commitment to other high-impact experiences did not come at the expense of my research productivity, nor did it pose a problem for tenure and promotion. In fact, it was the catalyst to my career.3

Employer and Community Benefits

  • Increases the diversity, energy, and enthusiasm within the workplace; 
  • Engages postsecondary institutions in responding to identified community need; 
  • Fosters additional collaboration with the university; 
  • Increases the profile of the community’s opportunities and challenges; 
  • Provides a new perspective to the delivery of programs, services and products; 
  • Helps organizations find solutions to specific business or industry needs; and
  • Attracts and hires motivated and enthusiastic new employees.

Recently, Ontario Premier’s Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel4 recommended that every student be guaranteed at least one EL opportunity during their post-secondary academic program.  The University of Windsor has committed to providing students with experiential learning opportunities as part of its Strategic Mandate Agreement5.

Select Articles and Reports on the Benefits of Experiential Learning:

Wright, M. C. (January 01, 2000). Getting More Out of Less: The Benefits of Short-Term Experiential Learning in Undergraduate Sociology Courses. Teaching Sociology, 28, 116-126.

Specht, L. B., & Sandlin, P. K. (June 01, 1991). The Differential Effects of Experiential Learning Activities and Traditional Lecture Classes in Accounting. Simulation & Gaming, 22, 2, 196-210.

Council of Ontario Universities. (2014). Bringing Life to Learning at Ontario Universities.

RBC. (2018). Humans Wanted: How Canadian youth can thrive in the age of disruption.


1Aristotle. (350BC).  Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by W. D. Ross, 1994. The Internet Classics Archive. Retrieved from
2Kolb, D.A. & Fry, R. E. (1975). Towards an Applied Theory of Experiential Learning. In C. Cooper (ed.), Theories of group processes.  N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons.
3Houser, C. (2017, June 7) Study abroad experiences are not just for students. University Affairs. Retrieved from
4Ontario Premier’s Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel (2016). Building the Workforce of Tomorrow: A Shared Responsibility. Retrieved from