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Considerations for Planning an Experiential Learning Course

Determining the Right Type of Experiential Learning

It can be daunting to consider designing or re-designing a course to incorporate experiential learning. This webpage aims to provide a series of steps to consider as you begin to plan an experiential learning course.

First, you need to consider which type of experiential learning course is most appropriate based on your discipline, course objectives, class size, your projected time commitment, potential community/university partners, and similar factors. At UT Knoxville we support at least 12 types of experiential learning, and this link provides information about which types are the most prevalent in each college.

Once you have established which type of experiential learning you are going to adopt, it can be helpful to work through the following list in order to identify additional considerations:

  • Will you be working with a community partner?
  • If so, do you know which one? Have you worked with them before?
  • Have they successfully worked with college students in the past?
  • Will they come to your class, or will you (and your students) go and work with them? How will you approach logistical considerations to ensure that all students can travel to a work site?
  • Do you need to make an advance site visit? If this is an international experience, how will you vet your potential partners and determine the suitability of the destination for your specific experiential learning course?

  • How much of your time will you need to invest in order to complete your preliminary planning? Will you need to arrange meetings with potential partners, speakers, or guests?
  • How much time will students reasonably spend working on this course during a school week? Does a higher time commitment from students warrant the course receiving additional credit hours?
  • How much time do you foresee yourself devoting to the execution and management of the course during the semester? How will this affect your other research, teaching, service, and personal obligations?

  • In order to enhance student safety and reduce potential liability for the university, risk management must be considered an integral part of the experiential learning planning process.
  • For an overview of how to identify, assess, manage, and monitor the risks in your course, please download this two-page document, and also see the examples provided in this document.
  • For a more comprehensive examination of risk management in experiential learning contexts, please download our Risk Management Handbook.

Student Learning Outcomes & Assessment

Another key area in the planning process is determine students’ learning goals. At this stage, it will be helpful to become familiar with the Experience Learning initiative’s Student Learning Outcomes.

It is impossible to discuss student learning without also considering the best way to assess that learning and quantify student achievement. Please visit our Assessment Page for more information about best practices related to assessment in experiential learning.

In short, as you frame your course activities and make them experiential, it might be helpful to utilize the following general framework from Cantor (1995, p. 82).

  • Decide which parts of your course can be instructed more effectively with experiential learning.
  • Think about how any potential activities match the course learning objectives.
  • Think about how the potential activity complements the overall course of study.
  • Think about the grading criteria and evaluation method that would match the proposed activity

Course Designations

Finally, if you are interested in leading a service-learning, undergraduate research, or internship experience, it is possible to have your course “designated” as a S (service-learning), R (undergraduate research), or N (internship) course. This course designation system was created to identify and promote experiential learning opportunities for students while simultaneously being offered as a way to better support the faculty teaching these courses.

  • For more information about the application process for a course designation, please visit our Experience Learning initiative’s website.
  • Also, we showcase these course each semester on our Find an Opportunity webpage so that students (and advisors) can easily locate and register for currently offered designated courses.


Austin, M. J., & Rust, D. Z. (2015). Developing an Experiential Learning Program: Milestones and Challenges. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education27(1), 143-153.

Cantor, J.A. (1995). Experiential Learning in Higher Education. Washington, D.C.: ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 7.

University of Tennessee. (2016). Experience Learning: Resource guide. Retrieved from