Higher Education’s Love-Hate Relationship with Experiential Learning

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Written by Sherry Hoskinson

You don’t need to look very hard to find a higher-ed institution with a vision statement that includes experiential learning.  High-impact, personalized, career-oriented learning is a powerful complement to classroom studies, regardless of a students’ chosen field. 


Imagine trying to teach a woodworking class in a classroom sitting down at desks. Without the use of tools and materials and without the goal of creating something, students might finish the class “well educated,” but they would be far from ready to jump in hands-on and create new products successfully.


In the mid 1990’s, several leaders in the Venture Capital (VC) field became painfully aware that VC firms weren’t interested in hiring individuals without experience—the old Catch 22.  In partnership with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the Kauffman Fellows program was created (, which covered the costs of placing promising individuals in VC firms so long as the firms provided deep, experiential learning over an extended period in order to give students the direct experience and knowledge needed to continue to grow the industry. That program has grown into a full two-year training experience, world renowned for fostering innovative leaders.     


While experiential education is critical, it is also challenging for academic institutions to build, manage and organize. It is also challenging to assign the costs associated with the delivery of high-quality experiences across the higher ed provider and the industry partners since both benefits by preparing well-educated students to enter, and eventually lead, their fields.


It is pretty clear why experiential learning has made its way into mainstream higher education over the past two decades. In today’s fast-paced, technology-oriented, innovative environment, basic knowledge is not enough. In order to excel upon graduation and quickly rise to impactful positions, it is essential for students to learn how to use tools and engage with innovators and their constantly changing organizations and environments.


While experiential learning is prolific, the approaches (and outcomes) vary greatly. They are often characterized by the resources and focus of academic departments and leaders.  


Here are some key considerations as you begin to assess the effectiveness of experiential learning at your institution:


  • Higher education organizations need to develop and manage a large network of deep industry relationships in order to regularly identify and construct meaningful experiential learning opportunities.
  • Teaching faculty need to be able to identify, manage, and report against student learning outcomes defined in advance, while also acknowledging and weighing the importance of the outcomes for their industry partners, which typically includes access to talent and well-researched solutions.
  • Organizing and managing live industry collaborations can be really challenging, especially for teaching faculty (particularly pre-tenure and adjuncts) given an overall lack of resources and direction.
  • Departments, colleges, and institutions need to provide appropriate tools and capabilities for faculty that are designed to ease the burden of building, managing, and scaling high-impact experiential learning programs.
  • The tools need to be intuitive, well-designed, and well-populated with example content that streamlines the design and management of experiential learning engagements for both faculty and industry mentors.
  • The technology should be branded and customized to meet the unique teaching goals of each program.
  • Although a complicated structure, costs need to be spread between student learners, industry partners, and the institution.
  • Administrators need to be able to track outcomes at an institutional level to prove effectiveness for accreditation



Consider CapSource…


Whether you’re a faculty or program director designing a Capstone or “Live Case” course, we know you’re already thinking about the complexities of organizing experiential learning programs and the challenges associated with scaling these types of programs. CapSource’s Experiential Learning Management System is designed to make experiential learning easy. We provide the tools and customizability for educators to build and track their own programs, while also providing added resources and services that make it easier than ever for first-time faculty to recruit industry partners and design collaborations that are geared to challenge their students and prepare them for their careers.


If your goal is to streamline your process, while maintaining the integrity and uniqueness of your program, CapSource is a great technology choice for you. We have engaged with and served students and faculty across 150+ global institutions as they each look to uniquely deliver on the experiential education promise.


CapSource CONNECT is a highly intuitive software platform designed for the experiential learning environment—which is complemented with strong partnership support. CapSource streamlines the activity to organize students, learning goals, industry partners, and institutional investment within the expanding experiential learning world.


Please join the conversation:  We would love your input! What are your experiences, challenges, and goals? Join us over the next few weeks in this blog as we explore these points and share experiences and perspectives from participants or register today and begin exploring CapSource’s free version to get started.