Why Experiential Learning Matters

“Experiential Learning” is often referred to as learning by doing. It gives you the opportunity to use or gain knowledge in a different way than solely reading textbooks or listening to lectures. It’s often through “involvement” that we truly learn — we take terms and theories and see how they play out through interaction and hands-on experience with people and places.

Through experiential learning, you learn to reflect in a deeper and more meaningful way about your experiences. It can help you increase your knowledge, learn new ways to apply that knowledge, develop your skills and clarify your values.

Experiential learning includes employment-related activities such as internships, part-time jobs, job shadowing and informational interviewing; academic activities such as taking exploratory courses, research and study abroad; and service-oriented activities such as participating in clubs, organizations and volunteering.

Let me share with you how I became an academic advisor because it exemplifies experiential learning opportunities. Before moving into academic advising, I worked in publications on campus. I edited newsletters, designed publications and managed websites. I enjoyed the work, but something was missing for me. I am a “helper,” and I missed some of the experiences from my earlier career in which I spent a lot of time talking with people and guiding people.

I decided to research fields that would allow me to put my “Strengths” of Empathy and Developer to work. I knew I wanted to stay in academia. I love an environment in which people are always learning. I found “academic advising.” I ordered the Academic Advising Handbook and read articles from theNational Academic Advising Association. I liked what I read, but I needed more information — a concrete experience from which to gain more knowledge. So, I set up an informational interview with an advising director on campus.

By asking questions about the day-to-day life of an academic advisor, I learned what people really seemed to value about the job and also the challenges they experienced. From there, I decided to job shadow a departmental advisor.  Through hands-on observation, I listened to the advisor answer tons of questions from students. She coached. She problem-solved. She had rewarding moments. She had challenging moments. It was a long day! But, at the end of the day, she felt she had truly helped her students and that was good enough to bring her back the next day, and the day after that and so on.

So, what about you? If you have been thinking about a career in nursing, have you considered talking with a nurse about what he or she does on a daily basis or volunteering at a nursing home or hospital? If you have been thinking about elementary education, have you considered job shadowing an elementary teacher? If you are considering television broadcast as a career, have you considered volunteering at KOMU, KMIZ or KRCG? If you would like to be an event planner, have you thought about getting a part-time job at an event planning company or joining a campus club where you will be planning events?

In my opinion, people who take the leap into experiential learning and gain more concrete experiences will be much more confident in their major and career choices. There is a lot to consider after all! Your personality, your interests and skills, what work environment will help you grow and thrive, your goals and values …

Where to start? Talk with your advisor, your professors, check out HireMizzouTigers.com (there are many internship and part-time job postings listed) or visit the MU Career Center. The Career Center has many resources available for major and career exploration: career assessment tests, resume help, how to find contacts for informational interviewing and job shadowing, career coaching and career counseling. Don’t forget to use your network, too! Family and friends are a great resource for contacts for informational interviews, job shadowing and internship leads.

Take the leap and have fun with it!

Experiential Learning Idea List

  • MU Clubs and Organizations – MU has an amazingvariety of student organizations! Go to the Organization Resource Group. There over 750 organizations listed.
  • Research – Even as an undergrad you can participate in intellectual discovery rather than simply learn about it. Check out Information for Students and Student FAQs at the Office of Undergraduate Research .
  • Internships – These can be paid or unpaid; either way, the experience is valuable! Look up the websites of companies or organizations in your field to see if they have internship programs. If not, just ask if they’d be willing to take an intern. There are some internship guidebooks available, but your best bet might be to ask for and seek out opportunities on your own.
  • Informational Interviews/Job Shadowing – Get the low down on the challenges and rewards of an occupation from someone who does it every day. Meet with local professionals, family members or friends, professors or MU alumni.
  • Community Service/Volunteer Work – Gain experience while making a positive impact and finding personal satisfaction. Campus programs like A Way With Words and Numbers and Jumpstart allow you to spend time tutoring kids (either voluntarily or for work study). Resources for volunteer work around the country include the Voluntary Action Center, idealist and the United Way. Another website for volunteer opportunities in the community of Columbia is MU Serves.
  • Leadership Positions – Make a commitment to an organization that interests you, or take advantage of MU’s Leadership Development Program . You also can attain a Civic Leaders full-time or part-time internship if you want to work in a state government office or a not-for-profit organization.
  • Part-Time Jobs/Work study – Earn money while gaining experience. Go to the MU Career Center website and click on Quick Links for Part-time Job Search and Work Study.
  • Academic Classes – It’s the best way to see whether you really enjoy a subject. Early registration is just around the corner. Start browsing the course listings.
  • Study Abroad – How often do you get the chance to drop everything and run off to another country for a few months? Check out MU’s International Center website for study abroad opportunities.
  • Service Learning – Broaden your education by becoming an active part of the community as part of your coursework. Go to the Office of Service Learning website.