The Project: Experiential Education at UBC

This project (led by Dr. Kari Grain 2018-2020) used research and collaboration to better understand the current landscape, challenges and practices of experiential education (EE) at UBC. Ultimately, its goal was to enhance UBC’s support of Experiential Education and the people who lead it. As of February 2020, a Report and Recommendations document (Grain & Gerhard, 2020) has been made public by Simon Bates, Associate Provost Teaching and Learning, at UBC.

The EL characteristics below are drawn from various research sources and reports, and they guide the scoping of this project. The focus is on mapping/understanding experiential learning and education at UBC that has the following characteristics:

  • Highlights the power of experience in the educational process: Experience is not used primarily as a technique or a tool, but framed as an intentional and reflective process. [Some scholars argue that this framing actually constitutes experiential education rather than experiential learning. See Roberts, Beyond Learning by Doing, 2012]
  • Guided but not bound by a recursive learning cycle that involves opportunities for direct experience, reflection, conceptualization, critical analysis, and experimentation (See Kolb, 1984, 2014; MAESD Report, 2016)
  • Unique in its re-conceptualization of the constructed segregation between the classroom and the broader community/environment/world
  • Intentional in its pedagogical and philosophical design
  • Questionable Sustainability:  Courses and projects that are still – and perhaps perpetually – in question due to a host of factors that may render it vulnerable. Factors may include: financial restrictions, student enrollment, questions of access and equity, staff turnover, structural or systemic challenges, etc.

In addition to looking at experiential learning, this project sought to better understand the landscape and barriers for integrative learning at UBC. A particular focus was placed on the relationship between integrative learning and experiential learning, and how the two concepts might bolster one another.


This one-year project has been enabled by UBC’s Excellence Fund, which aims to “enhance our support of research-informed transformation of teaching and learning at UBC.” The role (Analyst, Experiential and Integrated Learning) is embedded across three interdisciplinary units:

  • The Centre for Community Engaged Learning (CCEL)
  • The Centre for Student Involvement & Careers (CSIC)
  • The Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT)

This cross-unit structure was designed to enhance the collaboration and communication pertaining to experiential and integrated learning.

Considerations & Nuances:

  • Depth and Breadth: There are countless innovative experiential learning techniques being used by faculty, students, and staff at UBC every day. This project will not constitute a broad, exhaustive inventory. Rather, we aim for deeper understanding of current practices, barriers, and approaches.
  • Contested Definitions: Experiential Learning and Education is a field wrought and rich with diverse language, definitions, and debates. We do not aim in this project to define or tidily delineate a justifiably messy field. Rather, our own definitions are being developed based on existing research, and with the key intention of scoping the project.
  • EL and White Normativity: The field of experiential learning and education has been critiqued for its theoretical foundations that highlight the work of Kolb, Dewey, and other White, Western, male scholars whose perspectives were (and continue to be) historically privileged and influential. Eastern philosophical traditions, Indigenous Pedagogies, and Critical Feminist Scholarship – to name only a few – also contain rich foundations that integrate experience and education. These marginalized narratives, alongside privileged narratives such as Kolb, Dewey, and others, are central to a more inclusive and equitable understanding of experiential learning and education at UBC.
  • Accessibility and Inclusion: Experiential education continues to be taken up more frequently by historically privileged populations, and is often inaccessible to marginalized or socioeconomically disadvantaged learners. This may be due to high travel and participation costs, time required for immersive opportunities, and/or a variety of other barriers (nationality, physical abilities, etc.). If experiential education is truly as transformative and impactful as the research suggests, then institutional priorities need to be directed toward accessibility for all
  • Linguistic Precision and Exploration: Experiential learning, experiential education, and integrative learning are three distinct terms, each with their own scholarship, overlapping and interwoven as they may be. This project does not collapse the three terms, nor does it see them as synonymous. Rather, we see the three terms as considerations in our exploration of UBC’s experiential learning landscape.

Scoping a project such as this can comprise half the work. For greater clarification, below are some goals that fall inside and outside the scope of this project:

Better understand EL at UBC in order to better support it Make recommendations on how to think about or frame the intersection of experience and learning
Generate a working definition of experiential learning for the scope of this project Define what is and isn’t experiential learning, experiential education, and integrative learning
Connect communities and people involved in EL Develop a universal(izing) idea of experiential and integrative learning at UBC that is beholden to a single framework or understanding
Synthesize research, literature, and findings in order to make recommendations for supporting EL at UBC in the future Duplicate past, existing, and ongoing projects that are related to EL at UBC
Develop resources, tools, and new knowledge to enhance EL at UBC and beyond (including samples of how scholars and practitioners have assessed the impact of EL activities) Assess the impact of specific types of EL or suggest best practices for assessing impact
Communicate / Disseminate resources and findings to UBC and broader EL community Deliver, implement, or develop direct experiential learning opportunities


UBC’s Strategic Plan: Shaping UBC’s Next Century (2018-2028)

UBC’s new Strategic Plan underlines Experiential Learning in two of its four core areas of focus: Transformative Learning and Local and Global Engagement.  Examples of specific strategies that are strongly linked to Experiential Learning include:

  • Strategy 13: Practical Learning (“Expand experiential, work-integrated, and extended learning opportunities”)
  • Strategy 14: Interdisciplinary Education (“Facilitate the development of Integrative, problem-focused learning”)
  • Strategy 16: Public Relevance (Support “community-based and action research projects, and learning initiatives that place…students in community settings”)
  • Strategy 19: Global Networks (Support “opportunities for students to study abroad through GoGlobal and other initiatives”)
  • Strategy 20: Coordinated Engagement (“Increase support for students, faculty, and staff working with and in the community”)


For more information, a conversation, or to connect directly, contact Kari Grain:

Biography: Kari Grain has a PhD from UBC’s Faculty of Education, and is a faculty member in UBC’s Department of Educational Studies, where she is the Lecturer-Coordinator for the Adult Learning and Global Change Master’s Program. Grain is the author of Critical Hope: How to Lead with purpose, Grapple with Complexity, and Cultivate Transformative Social Change (North Atlantic Books, 2022). She is also a Special Research Associate with Simon Fraser University’s Community Engaged Research Initiative, where she leads the Graduate Fellowship Program and other community engaged research initiatives. Her doctoral research examined the intersection of service-learning, social justice, and global engagement, with particular focus on engagement as an act of artistic, political, and embodied learning.