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Explaining “Why Experiential Learning?” to Students

You may be apprehensive about students buying-in to your chosen experiential learning type. What should you tell them? How can you help them see the importance of experiential learning and frame it in such a way that they take ownership of the opportunity? What does research say about the benefits of experiential learning for students’ success in the classroom and workforce?

This webpage seeks to equip you with the answers to these questions and be ready to explain the academic and professional value of experiential learning.

There are numerous academic benefits that are associated with experiential learning. The Association of American Colleges and Universities (2018) notes that high-impact practices, which include types of experiential learning such as undergraduate research, service-learning, and internships, “have been widely tested and have been shown to be beneficial for college students from many backgrounds, especially historically underserved students, who often do not have equitable access to high-impact learning.”

Furthermore, experiential learning can expose students to potential career opportunities while they are still students:

  • For example, students participating in experiential learning can be encouraged to reflect on these opportunities to determine if their real-world experience is all that they hoped it would be. This can allow students to confirm a career pathway, but it could also prompt a student to consider a different major if preconceptions about the discipline do not match their lived experience.
  • Experiential learning contexts may serve as crucibles whereby students “take initiative, make decisions, and [become] accountable for results” (Association for Experiential Education, 2018) while still remaining safe spaces to take risks and explore other areas of interest.

Students can also be encouraged by how experiential learning opportunities can substantially strengthen their marketability to future employers. Consider the following analysis from a study conducted by Hart Research Associates (2013) that surveyed 318 employers:

  • Employers endorse a blended model of liberal and applied learning.
  • Employers are highly focused on innovation as critical to the success of their companies, and they report that the challenges their employees face today are more complex and require a broader skill set than in the past.
  • Across several areas tested, employers strongly endorse educational practices that involve students in active, effortful work—practices that involve such things as collaborative problem solving, research, senior projects, community engagement, and internships.
  • More than three in four employers say they want colleges to place more emphasis on helping students develop five key learning outcomes, including critical thinking, complex problem solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge in real-world settings.
  • Employers consistently rank outcomes and practices that involve application of skills over acquisition of discrete bodies of knowledge. They also strongly endorse practices that require students to demonstrate both acquisition of knowledge and its application.

Fortunately, the skills and characteristics that employers are looking for in new college graduates are the very ones developed in experiential learning contexts. Consider the following four student learning outcomes for the Experience Learning initiative at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (2016):

Learning outcomes for experiential learning

Association for Experiential Education. (2018). What is experiential education? Retrieved from

Association of American Colleges & Universities. (2018). High-impact practices. Retrieved from

Hart Research Associates. (2013). It takes more than a major: Employer priorities for college learning and student success. Liberal Education, 99(2). Retrieved from

Kuh, George D. (2008). “High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter.” AAC&U, Washington, D.C. 34 pp.