What is experiential education?

Experiential learning is an educational framework that gives students the opportunity to construct knowledge, skills and value from real experience.

Students and partners engage in authentic experiences and focused reflection to develop new understandings and contribute to their communities. The strong partnerships developed through experiential education opportunities at UNB help to solve problems in innovative ways.

The University of New Brunswick’s Strategic Vision Toward 2030 outlines an ambitious and exciting plan to enhance experiential education at UNB. We are working to create experiential learning opportunities for all UNB students.

Opportunities in experiential education are available in all faculties on both campuses of UNB.

Experiential learning in education

Experiential learning is both a process and a journey.

Experiential education is the theory, while experiential learning refers to the practice. Experiential learning opportunities allow us to engage in experiential education.

Experiential learning is a three-pronged approach

  • Academic learning - engaging students in relevant learning connected to their academic program
  • Authentic experience - providing opportunities for students to practice their learning in meaningful ways
  • Reflective practice - building knowledge by connecting theory and practice

Experiential education is a cycle of learning

Kolb’s (1984) cycle of experiential education model is a widely used framework in education. While concrete experiences are important to learning, they only make up one part of Kolb’s cycle. The other three stages must be included in order for meaningful learning to take place. 

Kolb's cycle includes: adventure & challenge, observation & reflection, drawing conclusions, and application to real life

Adventure & challenge (doing/having an experience) 

Engaging in a concrete experience which could consist of a placement, a class project, etc.   
Example: A student from the Faculty of Arts completes an internship placement with a community partner, helping them to create a new program for their clients

Observation & reflection (reviewing/reflecting on the experience) 

Reflecting on the experience, drawing observations.  
Example: The student conducts focus groups and interviews with clients, working to understand their needs

Drawing conclusions (concluding/learning from the experience) 

Synthesizing observations into conclusions and new conceptual understanding of a new idea or a pre-existing idea.   
Example: The student builds a potential program and presents their research and idea to the community partner’s board of directors

Application to life (planning/trying out what you have learned) 

New understandings and knowledge are applied to different, new, and purposeful future experiences.  
Example: The student engages clients in the program, and the cycle begins again!  

Benefits of experiential education 

For students 

  • Apply academic learning in hands on situations  
  • Develop professional networks and experience  
  • Enhance leadership, technical, civic, and professional competencies 
  • Prepare graduates to help solve the pressing challenges facing the world today 
  • Increase confidence and problem-solving skills  

For employers & community partners 

  • Provide fresh perspectives on organization’s unique problems and challenges  
  • Build capacity within organizations and demonstrate leadership  
  • Attract and employ motivated new workers or volunteers  
  • Retain students and prepare them for rich and fulfilling lives post-graduation  

For the university 

  • Increase student engagement with their academic learning  
  • Improve student retention  
  • Create rich connections with partners for ongoing engagement  
  • Support students’ reflective and integrative learning skills  
  • Contribute to the development of our communities, province, and region  

For our communities 

  • Create partnerships and work together to tackle pressing issues and challenges  
  • Enhance engagement with civic and economic sectors  
  • Generate a diverse, vibrant, and engaged community prepared to lead change and create viable, sustainable growth and development