Take it outside

February 20 2018

The benefits of experiential learning

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Sometimes the best way to learn something is to do something. Sure, theory is important, but being able to put new knowledge and skills into practice allows you to test out just how deep your understanding is, whether a certain field or industry is for you and if there are questions you didn’t know you had.

At MacEwan, experiential learning opportunities allow you to take what you’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to a real workplace experience.

Here’s what you need to know about experiential learning.

No experience? No problem.

Experiential learning is an important component of many courses and programs at MacEwan. It’s everything from practicums and internships to co-ops and volunteer work. It may be a mandatory or optional part of your course or program, and typically earns you academic credit.

“We have 90 courses on campus that have an experiential learning component,” says Dorothy Ritz, manager, Career Development and Experiential Learning. “It can take all kinds of shapes and sizes and forms, depending on your interest and what is offered in your program.”

One of the newest offerings is a co-op opportunity for Bachelor of Commerce students, allowing them to engage in real-world work experience as part of their course of study. MacEwan’s co-op program was designed in alignment with the Canadian Association of Co-operative Education to ensure it follows best practices in co-op education, such as guaranteeing the work is directly relevant to the student’s program.

Lots of other programs, from Bachelor of Nursing to Arts and Cultural Management, include a work placement or practicum component. Some individual courses may also include a community service learning requirement, where volunteer work is part of the assignment load. “There are some faculty members that do more of that than others,” explains Dorothy. “So if that’s something a student is interested in, they should talk to a program advisor to find out which classes offer those options.”

Making the most of it

The amount of control you have over a workplace learning opportunity varies. Some courses and professors allow students to choose the location of their placement, in some instances (such as nursing clinical placements), it’s largely dictated by what’s available. Most often you’ll land somewhere in between, working with your professor to find a good spot to test drive your developing skills.

But according to Dorothy, benefitting from an experiential learning opportunity is less about where you land, and more about what you do when you get there. Even if you can’t choose the location of your placement, you can still choose to make the most of the experience and add more value.

“Talk to everybody about their jobs. Learn about what they do. Often a student can get closer to the CEO than your typical employee can, so don’t be shy to talk to them too,” advises Dorothy. “I always tell students to bring a list of questions for their colleagues at their placement—what do you want to know? Ask them about their career, their education, their experience, why they chose this career path and how they got involved in this organization.”

Don’t forget to reflect

The work isn’t over when your placement ends. In fact, according to Dorothy, that’s where the most important step in the process begins.

Once you’ve completed your placement, Dorothy suggests taking some time to consider what you gained from the experience. “The reflection component of any placement is the most important part, because that’s where you learn about yourself in the context of a workplace, and you can make decisions about your future and where you want to go,” she says. “If you just say ‘I did this placement, I’m all finished, next one!’ without reflecting on it, then you miss the value of the experience.”


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