The CapSource Model for Industry-Integrated Experiential Learning

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Written by the CapSource Academic Innovation Team

Much attention is paid to the skills-gap among college graduates, or the difference between the skills students have developed at the point of graduation compared to those employers expect that students have developed by the time they graduate and enter their career. 


That then begs the question: What skills are important for college students to develop in order to be considered “career-ready”? 


One of the most widely used resources for identifying and defining the skills that – broadly speaking – are related with career readiness is a framework by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). NACE’s eight career competencies reflect a set of competencies that can be demonstrated in a variety of ways and together “broadly prepare the college educated for success in the workplace and lifelong career management,” including:


  • Communication
  • Critical Thinking
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Inter-cultural Fluency
  • Professional Aptitude
  • Career Management
  • Digital Technologies


Okay then, which of these skills are priority to develop in college learners? The answer depends on who you ask… A recent survey from the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities (APLU, 2020) sheds light on the differences between employers and faculty by comparing the skills they prioritize. In their study on non-technical employability skills, researchers found that “the top three skill gaps for faculty made the top five skill gaps for employers, but of the top three skill gaps for employers, only one made the top five skill gaps for faculty” (ital. added). For employers, the largest gaps in student preparedness included the skills for “understanding role and expectations in the workplace” and “accepting critique and direction in the workplace”. Implications for better preparing students to succeed in the workplace suggest that “exploration and collaboration are needed to strengthen the relationships between academia and employers to improve the transition of new graduates to employment” (APLU, 2020).


In the context of the job-skills mismatch and other pressures, many educators emphasize that the “traditional college model” isn’t designed to keep up with the pace of rapidly changing industries, but also many educators also agree that changes in educational and learning environments are needed. 


How can the learning environment be adapted to better prepare students for the workplace?


Effectively incorporating these understandings into formal and informal learning contexts to improve employability skills of students is a present challenge for faculty looking for better ways to build the kind of soft skills and “hard skills” that are in demand. “[T]he unique value proposition universities can offer students in the digital age will consist of entrée into a dynamic ecosystem providing access to the latest knowledge and fostering relationships with other students, faculty, and employers,” (Fishman & Sledge, 2014). While many colleges and universities do offer students real-world opportunities through internship and learning abroad programs, they often occur toward the end of the college experience and lack a purposeful design and an integrated plan for developing skills over the duration of the learning program. To close the teaching and learning gap, educators and institutions need to work more closely with industry to define the skills that learners will need and be open to experimenting with alternative models of teaching and learning that improve student outcomes.


Not all “real-world”, “hands-on” experiences are equally educational, though. The kind of experiences that produce these outcomes aren’t solely defined by direct experience. Developing knowledge and skills – especially those that are more complex – requires creating and holding growth-producing experiences that allow the learner to move through the experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting cycle (Kolb & Kolb, 2005). Growth-producing experiences also require respect for the learner and their own experience and knowledge. They involve a purposeful blend of challenge and support, and a relatively “safe space” for students to assess their own learning, create their own knowledge, and measure their own skills and abilities to perform in a higher stakes environment. Since learners get to practice what’s being taught, make corrections in real-time, and connect abstract concepts to real-life conditions, their learning is actually accelerated. 


What kind of strategies and activities are likely to offer growth-producing experiences in the context of higher education? George Kuh (2008) identifies high-impact practices that educational research suggests increase rates of student engagement and retention. A number of these strategies and activities are useful for creating learning contexts that enhance “growth-producing” experiences in learners, specifically: collaborative projects, research experiences, internships, community-based and service learning, diversity and global learning, and capstone projects. 


CapSource offers a technology-based solution for institutions and educators looking to cultivate a broader educational ecosystem and establish industry partnerships to better prepare students for jobs of the future. CapSource’s industry-integrated experiential learning platform bridges academic and industry settings by strategically bringing learners, educators, and industry partners together to collaborate on real-world business challenges. CapSource provides the technology and industry partnerships that educators need to build, manage, and scale the kind of industry-based learning experiences that produce growth for engaged learners. 


The CapSource Model


The CapSource model for designing and delivering high-impact, industry-integrated learning opportunities is guided by principles of Experiential Learning Theory (ELT), which offers a framework for developing specific skills, competencies, and viewpoints needed for success in specific fields and the workforce in general. One of the most widely recognized and influential approaches to teaching and learning, David Kolb’s (1984) ELT provides a framework for purposeful design of growth-producing experiences. The theory infers a high value on direct, concrete “learn-by-doing” experiences where learners are immediately involved in activities that require critical thinking, problem solving and decision making.


The CapSource model has recently undergone recent changes to 1) better define the range of career competencies that can be developed in the context of industry-based learning experiences like collaborative projects and internships, and 2) emphasize the importance of feedback in the experiential learning process. The originally published program model illustrated that students have the opportunity to gain experience using four career-related skills: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. The revised model (shown below) incorporates the NACE Career Competencies framework and associated behaviors to more comprehensively account for the competencies that learners may use and develop and more clearly define how these are demonstrated in the workplace. 

CapSource has also added to the model a more purposeful feedback structure for learners to receive input from others engaged in the experience, including industry mentors and peers. In the context of collaborative projects and internships, feedback occurs informally, such as verbal input from an industry mentor on student work products, collaboration skills and time management. Feedback also occurs through a CapSource Multi-Source Evaluation System that integrates the National Association of Colleges and Employers eight career competencies, and draws upon empirically grounded methodological techniques for gathering feedback on situational behavior. Together, these informal and formal feedback structures are intended to promote student growth in a number of key ways (Gray, 2021), including helping students:

  • Identify and develop skills and attributes employers are seeking and give more meaning to learning experiences as opportunities for growth.
  • Engage in behaviors that promote development, including self-assessment, reflection, and identification of areas of strength and opportunities for growth;
  • Assess their own learning, skills and abilities in relation to professional standards and the perspective of mentors and peers.
  • Create their own knowledge through analysis, reflection and integration of input from others.


The Multi-Source Evaluation System also provides educators useful information for monitoring project and student performance, engaging in meaningful interventions, and assessing their own teaching and learning pedagogy. In the context of collaborative projects and internships, for instance, educators can use feedback from learners and industry partners to:   

  • Gain insight into students’ perceptions about their level of preparedness at the start of the project and inform scaffolding that undergirds the learning process;
  • Monitor project health and student performance and guide intervention strategies;
  • Demonstrate alignment between course and program learning goals, career competencies, and student learning outcomes to learners, colleagues, and accreditors
  • Evaluating teaching and learning pedagogies and demonstrating academic program and course outcomes as an indirect measure of student learning.


CapSource Programs


CapSource offers four engagement formats to connect and collaborate with industry partners to design and execute mutually-beneficial project-based engagements:



Our premier carefully designed synchronous project-based experiences that can are often used as hack-a-thons, case competitions, class projects, or capstone learning experiences. CapSource’s Live Cases are projects that are carefully scoped and managed through CapSource LIVE, CapSource’s Experiential Learning Management System, which ensures alignment and helps to measure progress towards achieving teaching goals and company objectives. Students typically work in teams collaboratively with peers, faculty, and industry partners to develop real valuable outcomes for their real-world industry stakeholders. This in-person, hybrid, or virtual learning format works to embed students into real-world context while challenging learners in a fairly “low-stakes” yet not-so-predictable environment.



CapSource provides a suite of tools to make case-based learning more engaging and up-to-date than ever before. Educators can now engage students using a database of previously completed “Projects” as well as specially curated case libraries from across our network designed to be plug-and-play as asynchronous projects, homework assignments, class discussions, and exam prompts. CapSource’s featured library, our OpenCases, are useful for stimulating problem-based class discussions and designing collaborative learning assignments through customizable industry-relevant simulations.



Our new mentoring program technology empowers educators to pair and manage mentors as they coach learners through carefully defined, customizable professional development curricula. Now, it’s easier than ever to build a robust mentoring program, including mentors from a range of industries and professions, designed to help students connect, engage, and learn from those with experience. CapSource uses a flexible approach, including customizable discussion topics as well as deliverable suggestions due before each meeting in order to maximize the impact of each mentor meeting. The goal of CapSource Mentoring is to develop students’ talent, networks, and readiness to meet their academic and professional goals while providing industry professionals with a casual yet effective way to meet and recruit young talent.


Getting Started…


For educators and institutions looking to reconceptualize the college experience by cultivating a broader educational ecosystem and designing these kinds of growth-producing experiences, CapSource offers research-based solutions to bridging the network and skills gaps. CapSource’s model integrates key principles and concepts from leading theories and frameworks to offer learning formats that bring educators, learners, and industry partners together to realize learning and business outcomes and promote growth for stakeholders. 


For industry, CapSource offers a variety of free and premium options in order to engage in experiential hiring: the try before you hire model for talent acquisition and training. By responding to CapSource Requests for Proposals, industry partners can try experiential hiring for free by working on Live Cases. For organizations serious about redesigning their hiring funnel using an experiential hiring methodology, we recommend exploring our more customizable Virtual Internship Model, which enables industry partners to further customize programs and timelines based on hiring needs and open positions. 


If you’re interested in better understanding the trade-off between students engaged in experiential learning and employers engaged in experiential hiring, we recommend referencing our previously published Experiential Bargain article.


If you’re interested in positioning yourself or your organization as a leader in experiential learning or experiential hiring, CapSource can help! Please schedule time with our team.