What is Experiential Learning?


In 2016-2017, experiential learning (EL) was defined by the University of Guelph’s Experiential Learning Task Force as:

A pedagogical practice whereby students gain new knowledge, skills and abilities due to the intentional application of classroom learning in a workplace or simulated workplace setting. Experiential learning opportunities are grounded in an intentional learning cycle and clearly defined learning outcomes. They engage students actively in creating knowledge and critically reflecting on their experiences, allowing them to understand how to transfer their knowledge and skills to future endeavours.

In 2017 the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) identified six criteria that must be met in order for an activity to be considered experiential learning. Alongside these criteria, the MCU specifies that the EL environment must be accessible and in compliance with all laws and regulations.

In 2020 the Experiential Learning Advisory Committee (ELAC) contextualized the six criteria to the University of Guelph. This contextualization provides the framework for understanding whether a curricular or co-curricular activity is experiential learning.

MCU EL Criteria U of G Contextualization

The student is in a workplace or simulated workplace.

The student is in a workplace or an environment that models or emulates a workplace in function, equipment or operation, wherein a student engages in activities reflecting real work experience.

The student is exposed to authentic demands that improve their job-ready skills, interpersonal skills, and transition to the workforce.

The student’s experience is designed to strengthen transferable skills, career competencies, and/or citizenship—all of which supports transition to the workforce.

“Authentic demands” are defined as work contexts, processes or practical experiences, with real-world application.

The experience is structured with purposeful and meaningful activities.

The experience includes learning outcomes that support and are constructively aligned with the student’s program learning outcomes and includes active supervision/mentorship of the student.

The student applies university or college program knowledge and/or essential employability skills.

The student applies university learning outcomes, program knowledge and/or essential employability skills (adopted from the Conference Board of Canada).

The experience includes student self-assessment and evaluation of the student's performance and learning outcomes by the employer and/or university/college.

The experience includes student self-assessment, such as reflection or self-evaluation of knowledge and/or learning progress.

The experience includes formal evaluation of learning outcomes by the institution and if applicable, the industry/community partner

The experience counts towards course credit or credential completion or is formally recognized by the college or university as meeting the five criteria above.

The experience counts towards course credit or credential completion or is formally recognized on the experience learning record.

Experience Profiles