The benefits of experiential learning for your education and career

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Particularly in higher education, there are some concepts that are difficult to understand and nearly impossible to master without hands-on experience. Doing something directly helps commit the information and process to memory, and doing so in the right professional environment takes learning to a new level entirely.

Person sitting at a desk holding a folder in front of a laptop with a cup of coffee.

In today’s higher education landscape, experiential learning in the forms of cooperative education, field practicum requirements, or an internship is more prevalent than ever before. More students and professionals seeking to progress their skills and talent are taking part in experiential learning as part of their education, and this isn’t just true for the commonly thought of fields like health care.

Students enrolled in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business online Bachelor of Science in Information Systems will also have the opportunity to take advantage of university experiential learning. Within the program’s upper level core, students will complete a course in Professional Development, and will also fulfill an experiential requirement worth up to three credit hours.

Let’s take a look at the concept of experiential learning, including the different opportunities available and the benefits it can provide for students.

What is experiential learning? Types and examples

While different institutions may use different names, the basic purpose behind experiential learning or field education remains the same: to enable students to test out their skills and education in a real-world working environment. After all, reading about and practicing a concept in a classroom setting can only take a student so far. Allowing them to take their talent out into the community supports a knowledge-by-doing approach and provides students an opportunity to flex their abilities in an environment that may be similar to the one they will work in one day.

As the Association of American Colleges and Universities notes, there are several different types of experiential learning styles, including:

  • Cooperative learning, where students are able to split their time between paid work in their field and campus or classroom study time. Some institutions also refer to this as a work/study, and these experiential learning opportunities can sometimes involve paid jobs on campus that align with students’ studies — i.e, a job working in the campus’ dining hall for culinary students; or a paid opportunity at the recreation center for a physical education student.
  • Internships are another common form of experiential learning, and many institutions now include an internship requirement as part of students’ work ahead of graduation. An internship is typically an unpaid position in an organization or business in the community that provides hands-on education in students’ field of study. For instance, a veterinary student may obtain an internship with a local vet office for more experience.
  • Service learning is also gaining popularity since it first emerged in the 1970s. As the AACU explains, service learning supports parallels between academic study and community service.

“The pioneers of service learning believed that the combination of service and learning would improve the quality of both and that it could lead to educational reform and democratic revitalization,” notes AACU contributor Janet Eyler.

Benefits of experiential learning

There are an array of key advantages of taking part in university experiential learning opportunities. In addition to getting hands-on experience in a real-world setting, other advantages include:

Explore different career paths

Experiential learning allows students to try out different activities in their field of study and better decide on their post-graduation career path. As Princeton Review editor-in-chief Rob Franek points out, while students may enjoy learning about a certain concept in class, they may feel differently once they get out into the field. In addition, these opportunities can help those who have already decided what they’d like to do figure out the best working environment.

“Are your sensibilities better suited for an institutional software company or a scrappy environmental startup?” Franek writes. “Summer internships in both the corporate and nonprofit worlds can give you a better idea of what fits you best.”

Learn in a safe environment

While students will likely take part in classroom scenarios pertaining to workplace challenges they’ll face in the field, there’s no substitute for experience in the real-life environment. What’s more, an internship or other field practice opportunity allows students to make mistakes, and learn from them, in a lower-pressure environment.

“It is only natural that mistakes happen during the course of learning, and using simulations is like taking kids to a playground, and getting them to have fun, try new things, and learn in a safe, controlled environment,” eLearning Industry contributor Kydon Holdings points out.

Boost engagement, ownership, and accountability

Gaining hands-on experience in a real-world setting can also help students better engage with the concept or material. As Holdings notes, this also helps students take more ownership of their work, and can even help them feel prouder of their achievement after the fact.

On the other hand, if students experience any missteps during their field education, this takes place in a safe environment. This also helps teach a valuable lesson in accountability and results of one’s actions. Reading about an issue can spark empathy in students, but completing the activity themselves helps them see the outcomes and results of their actions in a real-life environment. This better prepares them for their professional working life post-graduation.

Experiential learning for Bachelor of Science in Information Systems students

Students enrolled in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s online Bachelor of Science in Information Systems can develop their professional skills through course BUS 305 – Professional Development in Today’s Workplace. This one-credit-hour course helps prepare students for their experiential learning requirement, teaching them skills in networking, personal branding, career planning, interviewing, negotiation, professional etiquette, and more.

Ahead of graduating, students will also fulfill the experiential learning requirement in the field.

To find out more about this requirement and the other parts of the online Bachelor of Science in Information Systems program, check out our website and reach out to one of our expert enrollment advisors today.

Recommended Reading:

Cybersecurity careers with the Department of Homeland Security

The effect of ransomware attacks


UAB Master of Science in Management Information Systems Program page

MSMIS Course descriptions

Princeton Review

eLearning Industry