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User Research and Synthesis

Insights from an Experiential Learning Project in 2019

Phase one of the 2019 eCampusOntario Experiential Learning Experience Design project involved an extensive user research process – the goal was to better understand what makes a high-quality experiential learning opportunity. The process was initiated by student designers, with support from the SXD Lab at eCampusOntario. In total, approximately ninety (90) individuals were interviewed. Half were students who had participated in experiential learning and the other half were faculty members who had designed and delivered experiential learning curriculum. The insights generated were plentiful; the process explored what works, what doesn’t work and what could be better for experiential learning experiences.

The SXD Lab distilled content gathered into five insights.

To view the raw notes from the process, click here.

1. Clarity, clarity, clarity

Most students faced a common challenge with experiential learning. The major challenge most students faced was a lack of clarity and transparency with the scope and structure of an experience. Often, students felt lost, unprepared, and uncertain of the expectations. These feelings reflected poorly on the experience, the learning objectives and the value add for employers. Moreover, students often had to navigate these complexities with minimal support from their institution, faculty, and industry partner. Students emphasized that mentorship, ongoing communication, guidance and attention are extremely important elements that make-up a quality experiential learning experience.

RECOMMENDATION: Better coordination between all parties (students, educators and employers) from the outset is required to ensure a better experience. Areas of coordination include: lesson plans, key resources and ongoing communication channels.

2. Dependent vs. Independent Learning

While students work within a clear scope and structure for an EL experience, they should also be provided opportunities for autonomous learning. Aided by good mentorship, students should be given freedom to explore and navigate work culture, practices and key challenges in a space that is tolerant of mistakes and flexible enough to support independent decision-making. This setup offers students the chance to take ownership over their decision-making and ultimately, their learning journey.

RECOMMENDATION: Provide students with clear expectations and structure, while creating opportunities for self-accountability through independent decision-making in an environment that is tolerant of mistakes.

3. Inclusive Learning via Real-World Exposure

Students want as much exposure to real-world professional settings as possible. Often, students feel disconnected from the bigger picture of the workplace. They want to understand how organizations functions – the challenges they face, the problems they solve. Seeing the whole picture and the associated contexts within an organization provides students with opportunities to bridge the gap between the professional realm and academia.

RECOMMENDATION: Expose students to real-world settings, conversations and meetings in a professional environment(even if it means they act as observers during team meetings!).

4. Learning as a Social Experience

One benefit of experiential learning is the “hands-on” work that offers students the chance to apply their knowledge and hone their skills. Students are also looking for opportunities to be exposed to diverse people and perspectives. They recognize the importance of learning as a social experience as seek to connect work with personal values.

RECOMMENDATION: Provide learners’ with opportunities for “hands-on” experiences that involve working with people.

5. Reflection

An experiential learning opportunity may contain many layers. Reflection ensures that learning is a long-term, iterative process that doesn’t end with a course-term. Documentation of reflection can be helpful and should be approached in various ways to effectively assist students’ prospective learning experiences.

RECOMMENDATION: Support students with various forms of reflection processes. Pro-tip: feedback in the form of inperson individual and/or group discussions is highly engaging for students.