Reinventing The Internship: The Rise Of Experiential Learning

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Written by Jordan Levy

Internships have grown to be the most prevalent form of a “trial run” for students before they enter the workforce. The internship model traditionally allows young professionals to work with a company in a basic formal capacity. This gives the company a chance to vet them as a c andidate for future full-time employment. Although internships can be helpful, they are often limited in both scope and availability. The following statistics will give you an idea of just how limited internships are:


  • The Class of 2017 Student Survey Report, about 40% of students do not get a single chance to engage with a company directly before graduating through internships or co-ops.
  • Internships are mostly available during the summer when students often have to prioritize other forms of work or family responsibilities.
  • According to Ross Perlin’s Intern Nation, only 1.5 million internships are filled in the United States each year. There are 19.9 million students that are currently enrolled in higher education.
  • An internship provides limited exposure to one company and often only a single department within it. This results in a limited, one-dimensional learning experience.
  • Most of the time, an internship revolves around doing busy work rather than gaining real in-depth exposure to business functions and processes. They also tend to lack guidance from real mentors.

Discovery-Based Learning

Securing an internship nowadays isn’t enough for students to transition successfully from academia to the workforce. There’s an abundance of career paths available. This means students must go through a more extensive, discovery-based learning process to find what they are most passionate about.


Students are dem anding more real-world experiences throughout their traditional education program. Schools are therefore introducing different ways to expose students to work life. A single internship paired with academic coursework can only go so far for students. This is where experiential learning is coming into the picture and redefining the internship.


Table of Contents


  • 1 What is Experiential Learning?
  • 2 A Better Way to Vet, Hire, and Retain Employees
  • 3 Getting Started with Experiential Learning
  • 4 Making Experiential Learning Global
  • 5 Redefining Students’ Professional Experiences

1. What is Experiential Learning?

Experiential learning, or “learning through experience,” is an immersive, project-based approach that enables students to gain professional skills by helping organizations solve real business challenges. These challenges can include developing a launch strategy, formalizing a marketing plan, or suggesting operational improvements. When companies and universities join forces for an experiential learning collaboration, students have an opportunity to learn about the organization before entering the talent pipeline as a viable job c andidate.

2. A Better Way to Vet, Hire, and Retain Employees

Experiential learning has a lot in common with “flipped hiring.” Flipped hiring is a fairly new talent acquisition strategy that allows candidates to gain work experience with a company before they are extended a formal employment offer. Flipped hiring can level the playing field for career changers who do not have previous experience in a field, students who might not have an academic major directly related to the job, and other professionals who otherwise might be overlooked by an applicant tracking system.

With flipped hiring and experiential learning, it’s less about the degree a c andidate has or the school they attended. It’s about the quality of their work and the relationships they were able to build within an organization throughout the process.


Finding the right match


A 2016 Gallup poll revealed that 21% of millennials changed jobs within a 12-month period of graduating. This talent-company mismatch costs the economy an astronomical $30.5 billion annually.


Experiential learning and flipped hiring helps reduce churn rates with millennial employees. The reason behind this is that potential candidates get exposure to the business before they’re formally considered as a c andidate. This makes it more likely for candidates to begin working with an organization that’s a good fit for them and their career.


3. Getting Started with Experiential Learning


Experiential learning projects can be coordinated in-house through faculty members or outsourced to an experiential learning provider. New York-based EdTech startup CapSourcefacilitates experiential learning opportunities through a marketplace model that connects companies with students and their institutions.

Project-based learning approach

Internships can be costly and complicated for companies to orchestrate because they require a lot of direct involvement from managers. CapSource’s have a project-based learning approach which turns the company into the classroom. They do this through remote, highly research-oriented projects. This enables students to learn more about the real world before it’s time to formally enter the talent marketplace.

Typically, experiential learning projects are done on a part-time basis as part of a traditional course or extracurricular activity. CapSource’s unique approach allows companies to engage with students for free. The only requirement is to allocate a project mentor for an hour a week and share the information needed so that the students can be successful.

Finding what you excel in


Projects are designed from the ground up to expose learners to new business models, departments, job roles, and responsibilities before they graduate. This is so they can build a portfolio of applicable work experience and discover where they’re likely to excel and hone in on what they’re most interested in doing to jumpstart their career.

4. Making Experiential Learning Global


For students who are global-minded and socially conscious, international volunteering provides many of the same benefits as an experiential learning project built into a class curriculum.

Volunteerism, a valuable asset on the job market


While many employees do not view volunteerism as a way to advance their career or develop new skills, HR managers keep an eye on volunteer activities on resumes. In Deloitte’s 2016 Impact Survey, 82% of hiring managers reported that they would be more likely to choose a c andidate with volunteer experience, even though only 30% of resumes included it. In the same survey, 92% of hiring managers agreed that volunteering improves employees’ broader professional skills, including communication and leadership.


International volunteering is an advantage within a tight job market. It allows students to gain diverse work experience abroad and develop foreign language skills. Volunteers also face challenges of working with very limited resources on high-impact projects.

Volunteering is experiential learning


Since 2015, Germany-based startup Volunteer World has served more than 1,500 non-profit organizations in 80+ countries. They have connected almost 10,000 students with projects in the field of education, environment, and animal welfare. Most of their projects are based in emerging and developing countries like Latin America, Africa, and South-East Asia.

Volunteer World has identified a dem and for experiential learning by students. This is why they are offering volunteer opportunities directly related to various fields of study. They are often still referred to as internships because students gain study credits by participating. These international “internships” allows students to gain international work experience as they get relevant hands-on experience.

With over 1500 volunteer opportunities, almost all projects count as experiential learning abroad. Regardless of whether the experience is linked to their field of study or not, international volunteering is proving excellent in improving various skills that come in handy when students enter the job market.

The benefits of experiential learning exceed the job market


Volunteer World focusses on the need for international experiential learning by bundling opportunities such as nursing internships, dental internships, and medical internships. These internships are focused on students who are studying healthcare because the organizations require participants with a level of knowledge or experience.

International internship or experiential learning opportunities aren’t limited to healthcare, of course. Students studying business, law, geography, education will also find volunteer opportunities that will fulfill their need for experiential learning. They may also find a volunteer project which they may integrate into their studies as an internship. Environmental internships, for example, are excellent opportunities for those studying geography. The countless volunteer projects in education will greatly benefit those who want to teach.

Participating in experiential learning opportunities abroad is a great way to contribute to communities in need while gaining invaluable work experience. The benefits of volunteering go beyond helping others and increasing the chances of candidates in the job market. Deloitte’s 2017 Volunteerism Survey found that encouraging volunteerism–either through the company or individually–can lead to a more pleasant workplace culture and enhance br and perception.

5. Redefining Students’ Professional Experiences


Social-impact startups worldwide have identified and are tackling the lack of experiential learning. It is important to make experiential learning more scalable and easily attainable for learners at all levels around the globe. Furthermore, it is necessary to productize these experiences so they’re easy to adopt for organizations. Regardless of their size, location, product, or mission.

Design your own professional adventure with experiential learning


The modern education system is increasingly less about subscribing to a single school and major. It’s becoming more about allowing students to diversify and customize their experience so that it’s uniquely appropriate for them and their career goals.

Students can now design their own professional adventure rather than struggling to get an internship the summer before their senior year. Students can stack experiential learning engagements and volunteer experiences on top of their traditional, theory-based education throughout their entire college education. By doing so, students ultimately graduate more marketable, well-rounded, informed, and prepared than ever before.