Research & Resources

This page contains growing resources and research that can support a greater understanding of experiential learning. The research and literature component is laid out as a simple annotated bibliography. Please feel free to comment on any additions that would strengthen this nascent list.

Adcock, Cynthia F. and Batt, Cynthia and Brooks, Susan L. and Dunlap, Justine A. and Kaas, Carolyn Wilkes and Kruse, Katherine R. and Maze-Rothstein, Susan and Robbins, Ruth Anne, A Glossary for Experiential Education in Law Schools (November 30, 2014). 7 Elon L. Rev. 1, 12 (2015). Available at SSRN

This article is published by a group of law teachers from across multiple institutions. It was written with the intent of establishing some common nomenclature in the field of law which, according to authors, discusses experiential education terms such as clinics and clerkships inconsistently and with great variability.

Fenwick, T. (2000). Expanding Conceptions of experiential Learning: A Review of the Five Contemporary Perspectives on Cognition. Adult Education Quarterly, 50(4), 243-272. [See Article]

Fenwick is known for her publications that push for a critical approach to experiential learning frameworks, and expand the understanding of nuanced, often complex frameworks that may not fit within standard approaches such as those proposed by Kolb (1984) and Schon (1983). This article is one of Fenwick’s most cited, likely because of its strong – yet not oversimplistic – overview of five currents of thought in experiential learning. Here, Fenwick seeks to “disrupt conventional notions of experiential learning and invite more discussion about alternative conceptions by comparing five perspectives of experiential learning” (p. 244). She proposes five “pedagogical theories of experiential learning”: Reflective Constructivist, Psychoanalytic, Situated, Emancipatory, and Ecological.

Isaak, J., Devine, M., Gervich, C. & Gottschall, R. (2018). Are we experienced? Reflections on the SUNY Experiential Learning Mandate. Journal of Experiential Education 41(1), p. 23-38. [See Article]

This article uses four case studies, generated by each of the four authors, to examine the pedagogies used by instructors across four distinct disciplines in the SUNY system. The authors have a particular political reason for writing the manuscript – namely, that SUNY’s board abandoned the term “experiential learning” in favour of “applied learning.” In their own words, “we seek to challenge this erasure by exploring its implications for student learning, classroom practice, and educational policy” (p. 24). From the authors’ perspective, the decision to mandate applied learning has had a number of negative impacts. Among them, the decision has privileged certain disciplines that use applied learning regularly (e.g. medical sciences) while marginalizing disciplines that have a more difficult time organizing such endeavours (e.g. humanities). Additionally, the authors claim that “the policy proposal appeared to privilege activity over pedagogy” (p. 25). The broader suggestion made by the article is that pedagogy should take precedence over activities.

Iseke-Barnes, J. (2008). Pedagogies for Decolonizing. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 31(1), p. 123-148.

This article, although it does not position itself in the field of “experiential education,” illustrates specific Indigenous pedagogies and philosophies that can aid in teaching university students about systemic structures of colonization. Iseke-Barnes writes, “Our pedagogies, like our epistemologies, are in relation to the worlds we know and experience” (p. 123).

The author raises pedagogical activities as well as recommended discussion as a way to guide educators through the use of these pedagogies. In particular, Iseke-Barnes suggests the use of any combination of role playing, case studies, story-telling, dialogue, and reflection to prompt deeper understanding of colonization. Colonization, as the author points out, challenged and almost stamped out oral ways of knowing and passing knowledge, so these activities are a deliberate resistance to that. Furthermore, “embodiment practice” (Apoyshan, 1999, 2004) is suggested as a means of paying attention to the flow of energy through the body and the local environment.

Overall, the author shares what she calls a snapshot of her own classroom teaching strategies in the hopes of honouring more holistic ways of experiencing and decolonizing new knowledge.  This article attends to the “intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and physical dimensions of education.”

MAESD (2016). “MAESD: UDC Experiential Learning Sub-Group: Position Paper 1” 

This position paper is co-authored by a group of experts hired by the Ontario Government. Using data published in 2016 Ontario reports, it cites the increasing demand, in light of the most recent economic downturn, for experiential learning opportunities that can help graduates prepare for and adapt to diverse work environments and roles.

The report distinguishes between Experiential Learning (EL) and Work Integrated Learning (WIL). Although it acknowledges the fact that the terms are often used interchangeably, it notes that “experiential learning is generally understood to include various forms of ‘learning through doing’ that do not always require a work setting” (MAESD, 2016, p. 2). WIL, on the other hand, according to the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), includes seven types of activities: Apprenticeship, field placement, mandatory professional practice, Co-op, Internship, applied research project, and service-learning. The integration of EL, however, includes additions that are also high-impact practices, but which occur in different contexts and sometimes to different ends. Included in their list are such examples as: collaborative assignments, undergraduate research, capstone projects, global learning experiences, and entrepreneurship projects (p. 2).

Value of EL: According to the MAESD report (2016), “situated learning theory suggests that transferable skills are best learned when practiced in an authentic context, which can be provided by the work environment or in the classroom” (p. 3). “The value of experiential learning, therefore, lies not in what it is, but what it does: it integrates theory and practice to engage students in carefully chosen, authentic activities that contextualize learning to scaffold and support the transfer of skills from the traditional classroom setting to an authentic work environment” (p. 3). [Personally, I would critique this statement as being too narrow and short-sighted because it misrepresents the overall value of an education, which is conceivably not just to become a skilled and employed member of society but also – and I would argue, more importantly – to become a contributing member of society as an engaged citizen. In this way, experiential learning opportunities are just as valuable in the education of a person who becomes an unemployed, “stay at home mom” as they are to a welder, a teacher, or a mechanical engineer].

The MAESD Report recognizes the importance of generating a broad and inclusive definition of experiential learning, but one that doesn’t include every type of classroom activity. For this reason, they lay out three criteria that must be fulfilled for an activity to be considered experiential learning. Although the activity need not be credit-bearing, it must be assessed in some way (p. 5). Their proposed definition “includes a variety of carefully chosen activities that are facilitated by a college or university that” (p. 4):

  1. Allow students to gain transferable skills and competencies valued in and beyond the workplace through experiences that involve learning by doing;
  2. Cultivate deep learning by allowing students to independently synthesize and/or apply teachings from their academic programs; and
  3. Provide opportunities for reflection, critical analysis, and experimentation.

“Activities that would count as experiential learning include” [These are akin to “clusters” of EL as developed on the EL Map]:

  1. Work-integrated learning, such as co-ops, internships, and work study;
  2. Community-based learning, such as service learning;
  3. Problem-based learning, such as case studies and applied research projects;
  4. Entrepreneurship activities, such as participation in zone learning and incubators;
  5. Simulations, field experiences, labs, studio work, and other forms of undergraduate research; or
  6. Other activities that are demonstrably linked to a specific engagement with a workplace or community agency and that meet the above criteria.

McRae (2019). “A Framework for Quality Work Integrated Learning.” Keynote Lecture, University of Calgary’s Postsecondary Learning and Teaching Conference.

“Work-integrated learning (WIL), a form of experiential learning where the workplace or practice setting is a site for learning, is under increased pressure to grow. Some advocates are calling for all post-secondary students to have at least one WIL experience before they graduate. While this is a laudable goal given the many benefits of WIL, how can we ensure that this growth occurs without jeopardizing quality? This presentation introduces a quality framework for WIL that considers the perspectives of all five key stakeholders: students, employers/host organizations, educators, post-secondary institutions and governments” (McRae, Pretti & Church, 2018).

Roberts, J. (2012). Beyond Learning by Doing: Theoretical currents in experiential education. New York, NY: Routledge.

***I highly recommend this book to anybody who would like to gain a deeper understanding of experiential learning as it pertains to epistemologies and theoretical frameworks. It has been one of the more enjoyable, usable, and enlightening reads on this topic.

In this book, Jason Roberts delves into the theoretical trends and debates in experiential learning. He identifies a dearth of theorization and an over emphasis on practice in the realm of EL and addresses this gap by expounding upon four theoretical currents that he believes “comprise the main theoretical influences on how we construct curriculum projects in experiential education today” (p. 27). He distinguishes the currents, roughly, as: (a) Experience and the Individual (Romanticism);  (b) Experience and the Social (Pragmatism); (c) Experience and the Political (Critical Theory); and (d) Experience and the Market (“The Normative Current”). Through the development of an extended metaphor that takes shape throughout the book, Roberts contends that experiential education is a field with complexities, counter-currents, and intricacies that cannot be identified or appreciated from the top of a canyon. From the top of the canyon, he suggests, the river of experiential learning looks homogeneous, simple, easy to navigate. But he advocates for “leaving the rim” – departing from a typical and shallow conception of experiential education as “learning by doing.”

Schenck, J. & Cruickshank, J. (2015). Evolving Kolb: Experiential Education in the Age of Neuroscience. Journal of Experiential Education, 38(1), 73-95.

This article critiques Kolb’s learning cycle from a neuroscience perspective, ultimately arguing for a different and more neurobiologically appropriate learning cycle called Co-Constructed Developmental Teaching Theory (CDTT).

Digital Resources:

Ryerson University has this helpful introduction to experiential learning at their institution

UBC’s Community Engagement Office curates this extensive resource list for community engaged scholarship (including pdfs of essential readings).

Niagara College has developed this informative EL Toolkit, available for free online. This is an excellent and practical “one-stop shop” for so many of your institutional or programmatic needs.

UBC’s Dr. Alison Taylor has built this Community Engaged Learning blog, which is aimed at helping people who are new to Community Engaged Learning. It features a locally developed podcast and a number of Vancouver-specific resources.