What is Experiential Learning?

What is Experiential Learning?

Experiential learning (EL) opportunities are hands-on activities for students to apply their skills and knowledge to real-world problems that can also benefit your organization. EL formats have different lengths and learning goals, and can range from internships and work placements to in-class projects and competitions. This flexibility means you’ll be able to determine which EL opportunity best fits your unique needs as a small or medium business or non-profit organization.

Today’s students have the skills, knowledge and drive to contribute to your organization in a variety of valuable and tangible ways.

Experiential Learning Activities

A few examples of what EL opportunities might look like for you as an employer.


In-Class Research

Students collaborate and conduct research to help solve a real-life problem or challenge as part of their in-class work. An example would be business students providing consulting services to small- and medium-sized enterprises or nonprofit organizations with a final report due as part of their class curriculum.



Students get together to solve a specific challenge or problem for a business or non-profit organization in a condensed time frame and a more competitive atmosphere, such as developing a solution to help a community agency better serve its clients, or building a digital app to help a local restaurant manage customer reservations.


Performance and Artistic Productions

Students assist in projects and productions of audio, visual, theatrical or other artistic production, such as designing a set for a play, curating an exhibit of paintings by local artists or assisting in the production of a musical performance.

Placement with an employer or community organization


Service Learning

Students embark on a short placement in a local organization, such as an education student working with a local library to promote literacy in their community.

Industry-Sponsored Research

Students work with a sponsoring employer on- or off-campus to undertake a research project related to the employer’s industry or business, such as pharmacy students working with a pharmaceutical company to research new medications for particular conditions.

Community-Based Projects

A student or a group of students work in their community on a project for a business or non-profit organization. For example, business students could develop a marketing plan for a local Chamber of Commerce, or accounting students could set up free tax clinics for members of their community.

Community Research Projects

Students conduct research in their local community on behalf of a nonprofit organization or public body, such as social work and nursing students collaborating on a study to understand the social and health needs of their community for a regional health centre.

Professional placements


Co-operative Education (Co-op)

Students complete a paid four-to-eight month  placement that is a requirement to complete their academic program. Co-operative education is not a component of all academic programs, and is often found in specific areas of study. For example, co-ops are common in engineering programs, where students are often placed at tech firms, alternating between school and paid work in four-month intervals.


This is paid, full-time work for an employer that is time limited. Internships usually take place before a student’s final year of study, and can last from four to 16 months. Examples include a business student working for a Business Improvement Association, a journalism student working for a local newspaper, or an international relations student working for a non-profit humanitarian relief organization.

Field Experience, Clinical Placements and Practicums

Students apply what they’ve learned in their programs in the workplace for course credit, either paid or unpaid. Placements and practicums are common for nursing, social work and early childhood education students as a requirement to complete their degree program.