Building on one of my previous posts, The Importance of Applying What You Learn, I thought I’d take the next logical step and tell you about Experiential Education (EE). It’s one of those buzzwords you may well have heard flying about in your late high-school or early university years — but what exactly is Experiential Education? Let’s hear it from someone who should know, Kathleen Winningham, the director of York’s YU Experience Hub. She defines EE as:
The application of theory to a concrete experience, either within the classroom or within the community, which advances the learning outcomes of a course or program and requires students to reflect upon their learning.
In other words, EE provides students the opportunity to take what they learn in the classroom and — often at the same time as they are studying it in theory — apply it in real-life scenarios. This opportunity generally translates into working alongside external employers, community leaders, charities or York faculty members to gain hands-on skills and experience, and to complete projects with an actual impact in the world beyond the borders of the campus.
Chances are, of course, that if you give someone the above definition and then ask them about EE, they’ll likely respond with, “So, you mean internships?” While the internship is certainly part of it, Experiential Education at York encompasses much more. It is useful to consider three different categories of EE, all of which go beyond theoretical learning and therefore provide practical outside perspectives, but not all of which are paid, or paid in the same way:
To begin with the one still most closely tied to the classroom (but nonetheless valuable), this type of Experiential Education takes place whenever you interact with guest speakers during a course, participate in in-class simulations, attend workshops or take laboratory courses.
Examples: Conduct research, travel abroad and engage in community service beyond the classroom.
In the Faculty of Environmental Studies, for example, students can work in one of York’s three community gardens. Or, for something a little more adventurous, check out my previous post, “Under the Costa Rican Sun: York’s Eco Campus” and read about one York student’s experience conducting research at York’s EcoCampus in Costa Rica. Check with your own Faculty or the YU Experience Hub for possibilities in your own program!
The third type of EE will see you applying concepts and theories learned in the classroom through placements, internships and co-op education. See the chart below for more details about the differences and similarities of these types of EE opportunities:
It should also be noted that even if your program is not eligible for any of the offerings described above, listings for paid and unpaid internships, programs and placements outside of York can be plentifully found on the Career Centre’s online site.
Another opportunity for EE that you have surely heard of is Work/Study. Whether the positions are classified as Research at York (RAY), College Life at York (CLAY) or York Engaged Students (YES), students can find on-campus paid work positions catering to just about any major, and can often achieve equal experience to if they had participated in a co-op or internship. Speaking from personal experience, Work/Study positions will often tailor work tasks to support your personal interests and desired work experience, and they offer the convenience if being located on campus and generally accommodating class and exam schedules. Check out the Career Centre for a listing of all positions currently available.
What’s in It for You?
So why should you incorporate EE into your degree? Well, let me hit you with a little data. Take a peek at some numbers from the (mouthful incoming) 2013 Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers (CACEE) Campus Recruitment & Benchmark Report below:
The above chart looks at the top five skills valued by Canadian employers between 2011 and 2013. Now take a look at the chart below, which lists the skills and attributes strengthened through EE:
A quick comparison reveals a near 100% crossover rate between skills and attributes developed through EE and skills desired by Canadian employers, not to mention the connections, friends and overall improvement in competency you develop along the way.
So there you have it. While the typical internship or co-op program of course offers valuable opportunities, don’t limit yourself to these options when thinking about hands-on experience and career-readiness. Experiential Education is a wide playing field that provides diverse possibilities for students to gain practical experience outside (and sometimes inside) the classroom. Don’t be discouraged if you find your program to fall outside the eligibility of the standard co-op or internship program, as there is almost always another form of EE available for you. For those students interested in finding out what options are available to them, a great place to start is the aforementioned YU Experience Hub: its staff is dedicated to the very task of connecting students with available EE opportunities.
As always, if you know of any resources or services not mentioned here, do throw them down in the comment section below, or tweet us at @YorkUstudents. A little suggestion can go a long way.
To read about one recent York graduate’s fruitful experience with EE, specifically about History major Vincenzo Divito and his participation in an undergraduate Sociology course taught by Professor Peter Dawson, head over to YFile and check out the article, Students Describe Experiential Education Course as Life Changing.