Why Experiential Education?

Experiential Learning is an integral aspect of the student experience in Higher Education.  While professional programs and STEM programs are being tooled to better position the economy, the humanities often think about citizenship and well-being as the central focus of their efforts.

Legal and philosophy scholar Martha Nussbaum proposes that we ask the question:

"What are people able to do and be?"

Nussbaum's framework includes ten central capabilities that are of direct interest to the student, staff, and faculty experience. The university experience is central to obtaining the capabilities that Nussbaum proposes (see below).  This model can be used as a guide as we improve and build new exciting experiential learning opportunities for our students. 

Experiential Education done well can offer:

  • Increased community engagement and social networks for students
  • Opportunities for students and community partners to gain experience that they have reason to value
  • Opportunities to imagine and plan for futures that people have reason to value

What does it mean to use a Capabilities Approach in your teaching?

  • It is a process of being and becoming
  • Students target experiences that they have reason to value

This short video provides a vision for how the capability approach could be used in the delivery of the FAHSS curriculum: 

Experiential Learning done well enables opportunities for students to engage in projects directly relevant to mode-three knowledge (Fadeeva, Kindle) networks which

encourage[s] the problematization of research questions as ‘grand challenges’, such as climate change, human health and healthy living, food, energy and water security or sustainable cities. Owing to their scale and complexity, major social and economic problems transcend borders and disciplines, necessitating new methodological and organizational frameworks. They require collaborative solutions and interlocking innovation systems, underpinned by interdisciplinary research teams working inter-institutionally and globally (pp. 34-35)

Ten Central Capabilities

1.Life.  Being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length; not dying prematurely, or before one’s life is so reduced as to not worth living.

2.Bodily health.  Being able to have good health, including reproductive health; to be adequately nourished; to have adequate shelter.

3.Bodily integrity. Being able to move freely from place to place; to be secure against violent assault, including sexual assault and domestic violence; having opportunities for sexual satisfaction and for choice in matters of reproduction.

4.Senses, imagination, and thought. Being able to use the senses, to imagine, think and reason-and to do these things in a “truly human” way, a way informed and cultivated by an adequate education, including, but by no means limited to, literacy and basic mathematical and scientific training. Being able to use imagination and thought in connection with experiencing and producing works and events of one’s own choice, religious, literacy, musical, and so forth.  Being able to use one’s mind in ways protected by guarantees of freedom of expression with respect to both political and artistic speech, and freedom of religious exercise. Being able to have pleasurable experiences and to avoid nonbeneficial pain.

5.Emotions. Being able to have attachments to things and people outside ourselves; to love those who love and care for us, to grieve at their absence; in general, to love, to grieve, to experience longing, gratitude, and justified anger. Not having one’s emotional development blighted by fear and anxiety. (Supporting this capability means supporting forms of human association that can be shown to be crucial in their development.)

6.Practical reason. Being able to form a conception of the good and to engage in critical reflection about the planning of one’s life. (This entails protection for the liberty of conscience and religious observance.)

7.Affiliation. (A) Being able to live with and toward others, to recognize and show concern for other human beings, to engage in various forms of social interaction; to be able to imagine the situation of another.  (Protecting this capability means protecting institutions that constitute and nourish such forms of affiliation, and also protecting the freedom of assembly and political speech. (B) Having the social bases of self-respect and nonhumiliation; being able to be treated as a dignified being whose worth is equal to that of others. This entails provisions of non-discrimination on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, caste, religion, national origin.

8.Other species. Being able to live with concern for and in relation to animals, plants, and the world of nature.

9.Play. Being able to laugh, to play, to enjoy recreational activities.

10.Control over one’s environment (A) Political. Being able to participate effectively in political choices that govern one’s life; having the right of political participation, protections of free speech and association. (B) Material. Being able to hold property (both land and movable goods) and having property rights on an equal basis with others; having the right to seek employment on an equal basis with others; having the freedom from unwarranted search and seizure. In work, being able to work as a human being, exercising practical reason and entering into meaningful relationships of mutual recognition with other workers.


Boni, A., & Walker, M. (Eds.). (2013). Human development and capabilities: Re-imagining the university of the twenty-first century. Routledge.

Fadeeva. Z. (2014). Sustainable Development and Quality Assurance in Higher Education.  Palgrave Macmillan UK. Kindle Edition. (pp. 34-35). 

Nussbaum, M. C. (2011). Creating capabilities. Harvard University Press.

Walker, M. (2006). Higher education pedagogies. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).

Walker, M., & McLean, M. (2013). Professional education, capabilities and the public good: The role of universities in promoting human development. Routledge.