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Everything you need to know about experiential education

Postsecondary education is always evolving to meet growing demands across industries.

March 27, 2024

Postsecondary education is always evolving to meet growing demands across industries. Traditional methods of instruction are constantly being challenged and adapted, especially to make room for more innovative approaches. At the forefront of this revolution is experiential education. While it is often mistaken for "hands-on" or "immersive" learning, at the University of New Brunswick (UNB), experiential education represents much more. It’s a chance for students to collaborate with partners from various disciplines and innovatively tackle real-world challenges, deepen their learning, develop practical skills, and seamlessly apply their theoretical knowledge—ultimately providing them with a competitive edge in today’s job market.

As a national leader in experiential education, UNB takes pride in offering experiential learning opportunities across every faculty at their two campuses in Fredericton and Saint John. From 2022-2023, students completed more than 1 million hours of experiential learning and since 2018, UNB has distributed more than $10 million in funding to support experiential education with nearly 3,000 community partners across 97 communities.

Here’s a closer look into how UNB is actively helping its students learn and grow inside and outside their lecture halls.

What does experiential education look like?

UNB generally offers two forms of experiential learning, Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) and Community Engaged Learning (CEL).

WIL opportunities bridge the gap between academic studies and the workplace by connecting students with employers to apply their skills in real-world settings, such as co-ops, internships, simulations/case-based learning, practicums or clinical placements. One WIL opportunity involved Gabriel Ibarra, a Computer Science student, who was partnered with Sankara, a new business selling international food through local vendors, and he was tasked to help them build a consumer-friendly mobile app as part of his co-op work term.

CEL, on the other hand, involves students in activities addressing community needs, with partners co-creating opportunities for problem-solving, fostering immediate impact, equity and positive change. One CEL opportunity involved Alexis Grant, a business administration student, who collaborated with the New Brunswick Association for Community Living to enhance their revenue-generating program, which benefited individuals with intellectual impairments and their families.

In the 2022-2023 academic year, 58 per cent of students participated in experiential learning and UNB offered more than 10,000 opportunities, mainly through local organizations (92 per cent) but also internationally.

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Are experiential learning opportunities customizable?

Faculty members often tailor experiential programs specially for students with more specific interests. This can be done through research studies or capstone projects, including a long-term project with real-world applicability.

Abby Culberson, for instance, conducted a capstone research project as part of her Environmental Management 4020 Capstone Practicum course, focusing on strategies to preserve a thriving muskie fish population in the Saint John River.

Why is experiential learning so valuable?

Experiential learning benefits both students and communities by providing valuable tactical skills for students while filling any societal gaps. UNB champions community-engaged experiential education, fostering strong partnerships and empowering students to tangibly spark positive social change while enhancing their own education and building strong relationships and support networks.

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Are there any success stories with UNB’s experiential education program?

Mike Harrington, a 2015 Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering graduate, completed five co-op work terms during his degree, one of which was with Populus Plus, a cloud-based health information system facilitating collaborative care and patient tracking. Thanks to this experiential opportunity, Harrington still works at Populus as their director of software development.

Additionally, Jennifer Lord, a 2021 graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Criminal Justice, participated in an experiential learning opportunity with the Elizabeth Fry Society. As a public relations coordinator, her focus was on addressing social issues impacting women in the criminal justice system. By creating educational podcasts and materials, Jennifer set out to shed light on the struggles these women endure and the importance of support and education. This hands-on opportunity gave Jennifer valuable insights into local issues and sustainable development, aligning perfectly with her dream to work with the Canadian Innocence Project. Her involvement shows how community-engaged learning makes a real difference in addressing major challenges and fostering positive change.

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