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Running head: EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 1
High Impact Practices a Path to Experiential Learning in the Online Environment
Tamara Mitchell
Western Oregon University
EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 2
High Impact Practices a Path to Experiential Learning in the Online Environment
In a survey conducted June 8 – 18, 2017 by PEW Research Group, 58% of political
leaders indicated that higher education is essential, but ineffective in the United States
(Fingerhut, 2017). While many colleges and universities feel that they are educating students for
career-based opportunities, only 42% of Americans reported that higher education is essential for
career achievement and progression (Fingerhut, 2017). As confidence in higher education falls
and perceptions of the widening gap between workforce skills and degree skills increases, it is
surprising that online education has grown in the last decade. The Babson Study of Distance
Education notes, “Multi-year trend shows growth in online enrollments continues to outpace
overall higher ed enrollments” (Pacheko, 2017). As a result, many higher education institutions
decreasing funding to campus-based programs and are redirecting budgets to online programs
that are flourishing (Fingerhut, 2017). Unfortunately, only 29% of higher education faculty feel
online education is effective (Pacheko, 2017). Building online curriculum with intentional,
targeted experiential learning activities is an important part of educating students for their current
campus and future career roles and may assist with improving negative perceptions of higher
education.
As the focus on online education sharpens, the need for colleges and university to
develop hands-on, collaborative, and reflective experiential learning opportunities on the
curricular level is needed. High-Impact Educational Practices acknowledges experiential learning
as essential for transitioning students into campus and career roles (Kuh, 2008). Additionally,
interacting in complex experiential learning environments causes learners to fulfill more than one
role and, as a result, fosters deeper cognition (Soria & Weiner, 2013). While some theorists posit
that experiential learning is limited in online courses, others argue that online courses provide the
EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 3
flexibility needed for experiential learning to flourish. In fact, researchers recognize that even
though the value of experiential learning is widely understood in the academic community, few
faculty integrate experiential learning opportunities for students into their online curriculum
(Strickland, et. al., 2013). With the expansion of online programs throughout the last decade and
the introduction of High-Impact Educational Practices in 2008, the need for educators to connect
experiential learning to online environments is growing. Experiential learning is more needed
than ever to replicate the complexity inherent in real world environments (Kuh, 2008). Since
students with career goals and well-established peer relationships are more likely to make
positive persistence decisions, a broader application of experiential learning in online courses
may be linked to an improvement in student retention and completion rates. Although educators
facilitating learning experiences online encounter students who feel disconnected from campus
and career resources (Kuh, 2008), building active, culturally-sensitive explorations into online
curriculum may bolster student development (Chen, et al., 2013). Certainly, there is curricular
value in expanding experiential learning opportunities for online college students. Studies
acknowledge limitations inherent in the online environment but focus on the many benefits of
faculty-designed explorations which are practical, social, and personal (Strickland, et al., 2013).
Curriculum-supported, active learning integrates students into an online community which
prepares students for future roles.
Experiential learning refers to learning by doing, and is a well-recognized method for
preparing students for campus and career roles (Strickland, Adamson, Mcinally, Tiittanen, &
Metcalfe, 2013). While experiential learning for on campus students traditionally includes
learning inside and outside the classroom, technology-enhanced experiential learning approaches
EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 4
are lacking for online students who rarely have the advantage of campus involvement
(Stricklandet al., 2013).
This paper will examine three critical areas in which introducing experiential learning
into online courses will benefit students. First, experiential learning activates social relationships
which results in students more easily engaging in current and future roles. Second, online courses
enable students to transcend physical boundaries that often prevent them from becoming global
citizens. Third, technologies available in online environments enable students to enhance critical
thinking skills.
Establishing & Enhancing Roles
As the learning community develops, the application of knowledge to relevant contexts
drives students to establish their academic and professional roles in the group. Technology-
supported educational environments rely on a collaborative construction of knowledge between
students. As a result, the online environment is useful for collective learning among
professionals as well as students (Strickland et al., 2013). The social impact of experiential
learning indicates a positive correlation for students engaging in hands-on, collaborative,
reflective practices online.
Current research is expanding on the value of experiential learning in online courses. For
example, Hou’s research investigates the value of establishing an online community of practice
for students. In fact, the researcher emphasized the value of experiential learning in the process
of constructing and reinforcing multidimensional roles for students and teachers online (Hou,
H.2015). This study has larger implications of the importance of reflective practice in
establishing student identity in the online environment outweighs the limitation.
EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 5
Another social benefit is that educators are becoming aware of their responsibility to help
students develop into their respective social roles. Accentuating student roles in a community of
practice recognizes students as capable contributors who are still forming professional identities
(Alvarez, Taylor, & Rauseo, 2015). One implicit message of this approach is that educators are
responsible for establishing the contextualized factors which enable students to transition into
professional roles (Strickland et al., 2013). Alvarez, Taylor and Rauseo are one example. The
researchers designed a structured sales simulation to evaluate student skills against industry
needs. Along with instruction the team incorporated other experiential learning practices such as
exploratory sales exercises and reflection. Students in Alvarez et. al.’s study improved
significantly over their control group counterparts. The larger implication of this study is that
learning objectives and workplace skills can dovetail to improve the student experience (Alvarez,
et al., 2015).
Technology provides role-based solutions to higher education’s connection to the
workforce. For example, applications for this type of technology have benefitted medical
professionals. As a response to the growing shortage of professionals in healthcare careers, 105
first year nursing students participated in a randomized control trial evaluating the usefulness of
integrating workforce coping strategies into campus curriculum (Chen, Yang, Wang, & Zhang,
2012). The research of Yu Chen, Xueling Yang, Liyuan Wang, and Xiaoyuan Zhang (2012)
examines the value of career-relevant training and questions whether this training would help
students to develop soft skills useful for coping with high-burnout careers. This study is relevant
because it indicates that career-relevant explorations and training within an academic program
support the students in their future roles. Hou would agree that role-based training should extend
beyond technical to soft skills (Hou, 2015). Adding soft skills training to degree programs may
EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 6
be a successful method of ensuring students are well-prepared for their future career field after
graduation (Chen et al., 2012).
Global and Community Citizenship
Learners develop a sense of global citizenship as product of exploring international
contexts. As global citizens, students recognize the value of different cultural contexts and
engage in an active exploration of either their own culture, another culture, or both (Strickland et
al., 2013). Communities that regard cultural contexts are more likely to have participants who
view the community as caring, valuable for professional support, and reflective of their
multidimensional roles (Hou, 2015). While some academics view global citizenship as a result of
experiential learning, others see global citizenship as an obligation of experiential learning.
Global citizenship is a required learning outcome of High-Impact Educational Practices (Kuh,
2008). In contrast, Strickland & et al. (2014) view global interactions as a natural result of
bridging the gap between the classroom and the workplace. Web 2.0 technology is a useful tool
for raising student awareness of the global citizenship through asynchronous interactions
between university students in different countries (Strickland & et al, 2014). Cultural
exploration is best achieved by fostering relationships between students of other countries (Hou,
2015). Consider that the online course provides a distinct advantage for students who would like
to engage with other cultures. In addition, the learning management system may be used as an
alternative working environment for students from other countries who cannot afford
international internships and apprenticeships (2014).
Forming a sense of community in the online classroom leads to higher retention
of students. For example, Soria & Weiner incorporated a service learning component into their
courses in order to encourage students to strengthen working relationships by collaboratively
EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 7
producing texts. Participating students were assigned projects for non-profit agencies to create
brochures handouts, newsletters, and forms. Student outcomes were mostly positive and included
improved retention, anticipation of audience needs, increased technical skills and soft-skills, and
deeper engagement in a community of practice (Soria & Weiner, 2013). Soria and Weiner’s
research is important because it proves interacting in complex environments causes learners to
fulfill more than one role which fosters deeper cognition, higher levels of satisfaction, and
increased community connection (Soria & Weiner, 2013). Soria and Weiner’s findings align with
Strickland & et al. to emphasize the need for future professionals to adapt career-based skills to
global community contexts (2014).
Enhanced Critical Thinking
Incorporating experiential learning practices into the online course positively impacts critical
thinking skills. Wei, Peng, and Chou (2015) suggest that students who learn through choice and
exploration are more likely to persist, strengthen critical thinking skills, and report high levels of
satisfaction and engagement in the course. In fact the researchers found a positive correlation
between student perceptions of interactivity and actual student engagement and performance in
the course (Wei & et al., 2015). Introducing real-world, active learning structures into the online
course is not only an attempt to replicate a real-world environment online, it is a method of
fostering students’ choice and academic exploration at the curricular level. In other words,
designing choice and exploration into courses activates the affective domain and improves
motivation (Kuh, 2008).
Simulations are another method of experiential learning which have proven to be scalable
sustainable tools for augmenting student learning (Beckem & Watkins, 2014). Immersive
learning environments present a complexity and unpredictability which allows students to
EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 8
challenge their conceptual understanding, but may also lead to frustrations when students cannot
solve ambiguous problems (Jamaludin, Chee & Ho, 2009). However, coping with ambiguity is
an important skill for students transitioning into the workforce (Beckem & Watkins, 2014). One
study of 98 participants in a learning simulation pilot program evaluated the skills students need
to be successful in academic and career environments (Beckem & Watkins, 2014). Quantitative
and qualitative feedback was collected through an exit survey (Beckem & Watkins, 2014).
Beckem and Watkins(2014) recognized that simulations increase student engagement and deeper
learning among students participating in the study. Certainly, simulations can be broadly applied
to simulate learning in career and campus-based contexts within the academic course. Consider
that such an approach would leverage the natural strengths of online learning. Still, setbacks can
occur.
In experiential learning development, critical thinking skills are fostered only when founded
on solid theory and professional practice. For example, students have been studied for the past
decade or so as they participated in Second Life, a virtual world. (Jamaludin et al., 2009).
Student interactions were recorded within the simulation and data was analyzed using an adapted
framework of Weinberger and Fisher’s model of argumentative knowledge construction
(Jamaludin et al., 2009). Unfortunately, the lack of structure or clear performance objectives
yielded little or no change in student performance (Jamaludin et al., 2009). Beckem and Watkins
would further clarify that simulations should include scaffolded instruction (2014). For example,
Jamaludin and his colleagues developed a course structure in which students were required to
participate in Second Life in order to improve communication techniques. Unfortunately,
students were not given instruction on proven strategies for constructing arguments. Unlike Soria
and Weiner’s social learning intervention, Jamaludin et al.’s virtual world intervention did not
EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 9
include a richer, more instructive application of proven curriculum (Soria & Weiner, 2013)
(Jamaludin et al., 2009). One implication of this comparison reaffirms the importance of
experiential learning as an intentional, guided, exploratory process. Beckem and Watkins agree
that higher levels of critical thinking are best achieved when instruction relevant to the
experiential learning context is given prior to or in coordination with a learning simulation
(2014). Also, alignment between simulation design and real-world contexts must be achieved for
the simulation to be effective (Beckem and Watkins, 2014).
Analyzing Benefits and Recognizing Drawbacks
Confirming viewpoints illustrate unique research contributions and the need for a further
exploration of incorporating experiential learning into online curriculum. Although researchers
increasingly view experiential learning in curriculum as essential (Beckem & Watkins, 2012), a
clear framework for incorporating experiential learning into online courses has yet to be
established for students transitioning into academic and career roles. Meanwhile, Strickland et al.
documents that career fields are becoming more diverse and require higher levels of cultural
competencies. Alvarez et al. suggest that emphasizing academic objectives and curriculum
through activities that encourage students to establish a professional identity and build industry-
relevant skills is increasingly regarded as a best practice (2015). Beckem & Watkins’ research
reaffirms that immersive learning environments can be constructed to contribute to workforce
readiness and help students develop industry-relevant critical thinking skills (2012). Wei et al.,
Strickland et al., and Hou acknowledge that reinforcing shared cultural values contributes
positively to the online professional community of practice and prepares students for
professional roles in a global economy (Wei et al., 2015) (Strickland et al., 2013) (Hou, 2015).
EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 10
Still, opposing perspectives suggest potential gaps in the research as well as a measured
application of experiential learning in the online environment. Jamaludin et al. indicate that
ambiguity inherent in simulations may prove frustrating for students who have not mastered
foundational concepts, and provide evidence of best practices for developing engaging
experiential learning explorations for students online (2009). Strickland acknowledges that real
world internships are the best alternative, but experiential learning with an international audience
in the online context may be an acceptable alternative for those who cannot afford international
internships (Strickland et al., 2013). Although all studies focused on developing student
competencies through experiential learning, none of the researchers incorporated industry
perspectives or studies into the research. Also, none of the researchers incorporated career theory
into frameworks for either analyzing data collected or determining which data to collect. Alvarez
et al. notes a lack of alignment between current education and industry expectations for student
performance and critical thinking (2015).
Improving the Gap
Still, career-related research gaps exist for most majors that do not require internship or
experiential learning as part of study in the form of an internship, clinical study, or research.
Future research is needed to evaluate how experiential learning design for online environments
can align with High Impact Educational Practices (Kuh, 2008) and industry expectations. Little
is known about the perceived and actual alignment between online students, faculty, and
employer expectations of experiential learning (Alvarez et al., 2015). There is still much to learn
about using experiential learning to align course learning objectives with industry needs.
Conclusion
EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 11
Course-based experiential learning activities reinforce the campus culture and provide
students with an opportunity to explore content in the context of academic and career goals.
First, there is a relationship between campus roles, culture, and the student educational
experience. Shared group values can be incorporated into online curriculum to enrich the
learning experience and produce positive student evaluations (Hou, 2015). Second, student
global competencies are enhanced when shared values are explored in a career-focused curricular
experience online (Strickland et al., 2013). Since students in academia and career contexts
interact with increasingly diverse cultures and fulfill roles related to a larger global context,
experiential learning is more needed than ever to replicate the complexity inherent in these
contexts (Hou, H.2015). Similarly, complexity in work-related context is increasing, and barriers
to success in career fields are becoming clearer (Strickland et al., 2013). Finally introducing
students into complex learning environments that require the experiential learning practices of
exploration and reflection improves critical thinking. Adapting curriculum to apply career-
related skills is an emerging best practice in higher education (Chen, Yang, Wang, & Zhang,
2013). As online enrollment continues to grow, the need for implementing experiential learning
into the online environment will become increasingly important for educational institutions.
EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 12
References
Alvarez, C., Taylor, K., & Rauseo, N. (2015). Creating Thoughtful Salespeople: Experiential
Learning to Improve Critical Thinking Skills in Traditional and Online Sales Education.
Marketing Education Review, 25(3), 233-243.
Beckem, J., & Watkins, M. (2012). Bringing life to learning: Immersive experiential learning
simulations for online and blended courses. 16(5), 61.
Chen, Y. Yang, X. Wang, L. & Zhang, X. (2013). A randomized controlled trial of the effects of
brief mindfulness meditation on anxiety symptoms and systolic blood pressure in Chinese
nursing students. Nurse Education Today, 33(10), 1166-1172.
Fingerhut, H. (2017, July 20). Republicans skeptical of colleges' impact on U.S., but most see
benefits for workforce preparation. Retrieved November 29, 2017, from
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/07/20/republicans-skeptical-of-colleges-
impact-on-u-s-but-most-see-benefits-for-workforce-preparation/
Hou, H. (2015). What makes an online community of practice work? A situated study of Chinese
student teachers’ perceptions of online professional learning. Teaching and Teacher
Education, 46, 6-16.
Jamaludin, A., Chee, Y. & Ho, M. (2009). Fostering argumentative knowledge construction
through enactive role play in Second Life. Computers & Education, 53(2), 317-329.
Kuh, G. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and
why they matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Pacheko, E. (2017, February 2). Babson Study: Distance Education Enrollment Growth
Continues. Retrieved November 30, 2017, from
https://onlinelearningconsortium.org/news_item/babson-study-distance-education-
enrollment-growth-continues-2/
Soria, K., & Weiner, B. (2013). A “Virtual Fieldtrip”: Service Learning in Distance Education
Technical Writing Courses. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 43(2),
181-200.
Strickland, K., Adamson, A. Mcinally, W., Tiittanen, H., & Metcalfe, S. (2013). Developing
global citizenship online: An authentic alternative to overseas clinical placement. Nurse
Education Today, 33(10), 1160-1165.
Wei, P. & Chou, R. (2015). Can more interactivity improve learning achievement in an online
course? Effects of college students' perception and actual use of a course-management
system on their learning achievement. Computers & Education, 83, 10-21.

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High impact practices a path to experiential learning in the online environment revised

  • 1. Running head: EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 1 High Impact Practices a Path to Experiential Learning in the Online Environment Tamara Mitchell Western Oregon University
  • 2. EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 2 High Impact Practices a Path to Experiential Learning in the Online Environment In a survey conducted June 8 – 18, 2017 by PEW Research Group, 58% of political leaders indicated that higher education is essential, but ineffective in the United States (Fingerhut, 2017). While many colleges and universities feel that they are educating students for career-based opportunities, only 42% of Americans reported that higher education is essential for career achievement and progression (Fingerhut, 2017). As confidence in higher education falls and perceptions of the widening gap between workforce skills and degree skills increases, it is surprising that online education has grown in the last decade. The Babson Study of Distance Education notes, “Multi-year trend shows growth in online enrollments continues to outpace overall higher ed enrollments” (Pacheko, 2017). As a result, many higher education institutions decreasing funding to campus-based programs and are redirecting budgets to online programs that are flourishing (Fingerhut, 2017). Unfortunately, only 29% of higher education faculty feel online education is effective (Pacheko, 2017). Building online curriculum with intentional, targeted experiential learning activities is an important part of educating students for their current campus and future career roles and may assist with improving negative perceptions of higher education. As the focus on online education sharpens, the need for colleges and university to develop hands-on, collaborative, and reflective experiential learning opportunities on the curricular level is needed. High-Impact Educational Practices acknowledges experiential learning as essential for transitioning students into campus and career roles (Kuh, 2008). Additionally, interacting in complex experiential learning environments causes learners to fulfill more than one role and, as a result, fosters deeper cognition (Soria & Weiner, 2013). While some theorists posit that experiential learning is limited in online courses, others argue that online courses provide the
  • 3. EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 3 flexibility needed for experiential learning to flourish. In fact, researchers recognize that even though the value of experiential learning is widely understood in the academic community, few faculty integrate experiential learning opportunities for students into their online curriculum (Strickland, et. al., 2013). With the expansion of online programs throughout the last decade and the introduction of High-Impact Educational Practices in 2008, the need for educators to connect experiential learning to online environments is growing. Experiential learning is more needed than ever to replicate the complexity inherent in real world environments (Kuh, 2008). Since students with career goals and well-established peer relationships are more likely to make positive persistence decisions, a broader application of experiential learning in online courses may be linked to an improvement in student retention and completion rates. Although educators facilitating learning experiences online encounter students who feel disconnected from campus and career resources (Kuh, 2008), building active, culturally-sensitive explorations into online curriculum may bolster student development (Chen, et al., 2013). Certainly, there is curricular value in expanding experiential learning opportunities for online college students. Studies acknowledge limitations inherent in the online environment but focus on the many benefits of faculty-designed explorations which are practical, social, and personal (Strickland, et al., 2013). Curriculum-supported, active learning integrates students into an online community which prepares students for future roles. Experiential learning refers to learning by doing, and is a well-recognized method for preparing students for campus and career roles (Strickland, Adamson, Mcinally, Tiittanen, & Metcalfe, 2013). While experiential learning for on campus students traditionally includes learning inside and outside the classroom, technology-enhanced experiential learning approaches
  • 4. EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 4 are lacking for online students who rarely have the advantage of campus involvement (Stricklandet al., 2013). This paper will examine three critical areas in which introducing experiential learning into online courses will benefit students. First, experiential learning activates social relationships which results in students more easily engaging in current and future roles. Second, online courses enable students to transcend physical boundaries that often prevent them from becoming global citizens. Third, technologies available in online environments enable students to enhance critical thinking skills. Establishing & Enhancing Roles As the learning community develops, the application of knowledge to relevant contexts drives students to establish their academic and professional roles in the group. Technology- supported educational environments rely on a collaborative construction of knowledge between students. As a result, the online environment is useful for collective learning among professionals as well as students (Strickland et al., 2013). The social impact of experiential learning indicates a positive correlation for students engaging in hands-on, collaborative, reflective practices online. Current research is expanding on the value of experiential learning in online courses. For example, Hou’s research investigates the value of establishing an online community of practice for students. In fact, the researcher emphasized the value of experiential learning in the process of constructing and reinforcing multidimensional roles for students and teachers online (Hou, H.2015). This study has larger implications of the importance of reflective practice in establishing student identity in the online environment outweighs the limitation.
  • 5. EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 5 Another social benefit is that educators are becoming aware of their responsibility to help students develop into their respective social roles. Accentuating student roles in a community of practice recognizes students as capable contributors who are still forming professional identities (Alvarez, Taylor, & Rauseo, 2015). One implicit message of this approach is that educators are responsible for establishing the contextualized factors which enable students to transition into professional roles (Strickland et al., 2013). Alvarez, Taylor and Rauseo are one example. The researchers designed a structured sales simulation to evaluate student skills against industry needs. Along with instruction the team incorporated other experiential learning practices such as exploratory sales exercises and reflection. Students in Alvarez et. al.’s study improved significantly over their control group counterparts. The larger implication of this study is that learning objectives and workplace skills can dovetail to improve the student experience (Alvarez, et al., 2015). Technology provides role-based solutions to higher education’s connection to the workforce. For example, applications for this type of technology have benefitted medical professionals. As a response to the growing shortage of professionals in healthcare careers, 105 first year nursing students participated in a randomized control trial evaluating the usefulness of integrating workforce coping strategies into campus curriculum (Chen, Yang, Wang, & Zhang, 2012). The research of Yu Chen, Xueling Yang, Liyuan Wang, and Xiaoyuan Zhang (2012) examines the value of career-relevant training and questions whether this training would help students to develop soft skills useful for coping with high-burnout careers. This study is relevant because it indicates that career-relevant explorations and training within an academic program support the students in their future roles. Hou would agree that role-based training should extend beyond technical to soft skills (Hou, 2015). Adding soft skills training to degree programs may
  • 6. EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 6 be a successful method of ensuring students are well-prepared for their future career field after graduation (Chen et al., 2012). Global and Community Citizenship Learners develop a sense of global citizenship as product of exploring international contexts. As global citizens, students recognize the value of different cultural contexts and engage in an active exploration of either their own culture, another culture, or both (Strickland et al., 2013). Communities that regard cultural contexts are more likely to have participants who view the community as caring, valuable for professional support, and reflective of their multidimensional roles (Hou, 2015). While some academics view global citizenship as a result of experiential learning, others see global citizenship as an obligation of experiential learning. Global citizenship is a required learning outcome of High-Impact Educational Practices (Kuh, 2008). In contrast, Strickland & et al. (2014) view global interactions as a natural result of bridging the gap between the classroom and the workplace. Web 2.0 technology is a useful tool for raising student awareness of the global citizenship through asynchronous interactions between university students in different countries (Strickland & et al, 2014). Cultural exploration is best achieved by fostering relationships between students of other countries (Hou, 2015). Consider that the online course provides a distinct advantage for students who would like to engage with other cultures. In addition, the learning management system may be used as an alternative working environment for students from other countries who cannot afford international internships and apprenticeships (2014). Forming a sense of community in the online classroom leads to higher retention of students. For example, Soria & Weiner incorporated a service learning component into their courses in order to encourage students to strengthen working relationships by collaboratively
  • 7. EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 7 producing texts. Participating students were assigned projects for non-profit agencies to create brochures handouts, newsletters, and forms. Student outcomes were mostly positive and included improved retention, anticipation of audience needs, increased technical skills and soft-skills, and deeper engagement in a community of practice (Soria & Weiner, 2013). Soria and Weiner’s research is important because it proves interacting in complex environments causes learners to fulfill more than one role which fosters deeper cognition, higher levels of satisfaction, and increased community connection (Soria & Weiner, 2013). Soria and Weiner’s findings align with Strickland & et al. to emphasize the need for future professionals to adapt career-based skills to global community contexts (2014). Enhanced Critical Thinking Incorporating experiential learning practices into the online course positively impacts critical thinking skills. Wei, Peng, and Chou (2015) suggest that students who learn through choice and exploration are more likely to persist, strengthen critical thinking skills, and report high levels of satisfaction and engagement in the course. In fact the researchers found a positive correlation between student perceptions of interactivity and actual student engagement and performance in the course (Wei & et al., 2015). Introducing real-world, active learning structures into the online course is not only an attempt to replicate a real-world environment online, it is a method of fostering students’ choice and academic exploration at the curricular level. In other words, designing choice and exploration into courses activates the affective domain and improves motivation (Kuh, 2008). Simulations are another method of experiential learning which have proven to be scalable sustainable tools for augmenting student learning (Beckem & Watkins, 2014). Immersive learning environments present a complexity and unpredictability which allows students to
  • 8. EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 8 challenge their conceptual understanding, but may also lead to frustrations when students cannot solve ambiguous problems (Jamaludin, Chee & Ho, 2009). However, coping with ambiguity is an important skill for students transitioning into the workforce (Beckem & Watkins, 2014). One study of 98 participants in a learning simulation pilot program evaluated the skills students need to be successful in academic and career environments (Beckem & Watkins, 2014). Quantitative and qualitative feedback was collected through an exit survey (Beckem & Watkins, 2014). Beckem and Watkins(2014) recognized that simulations increase student engagement and deeper learning among students participating in the study. Certainly, simulations can be broadly applied to simulate learning in career and campus-based contexts within the academic course. Consider that such an approach would leverage the natural strengths of online learning. Still, setbacks can occur. In experiential learning development, critical thinking skills are fostered only when founded on solid theory and professional practice. For example, students have been studied for the past decade or so as they participated in Second Life, a virtual world. (Jamaludin et al., 2009). Student interactions were recorded within the simulation and data was analyzed using an adapted framework of Weinberger and Fisher’s model of argumentative knowledge construction (Jamaludin et al., 2009). Unfortunately, the lack of structure or clear performance objectives yielded little or no change in student performance (Jamaludin et al., 2009). Beckem and Watkins would further clarify that simulations should include scaffolded instruction (2014). For example, Jamaludin and his colleagues developed a course structure in which students were required to participate in Second Life in order to improve communication techniques. Unfortunately, students were not given instruction on proven strategies for constructing arguments. Unlike Soria and Weiner’s social learning intervention, Jamaludin et al.’s virtual world intervention did not
  • 9. EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 9 include a richer, more instructive application of proven curriculum (Soria & Weiner, 2013) (Jamaludin et al., 2009). One implication of this comparison reaffirms the importance of experiential learning as an intentional, guided, exploratory process. Beckem and Watkins agree that higher levels of critical thinking are best achieved when instruction relevant to the experiential learning context is given prior to or in coordination with a learning simulation (2014). Also, alignment between simulation design and real-world contexts must be achieved for the simulation to be effective (Beckem and Watkins, 2014). Analyzing Benefits and Recognizing Drawbacks Confirming viewpoints illustrate unique research contributions and the need for a further exploration of incorporating experiential learning into online curriculum. Although researchers increasingly view experiential learning in curriculum as essential (Beckem & Watkins, 2012), a clear framework for incorporating experiential learning into online courses has yet to be established for students transitioning into academic and career roles. Meanwhile, Strickland et al. documents that career fields are becoming more diverse and require higher levels of cultural competencies. Alvarez et al. suggest that emphasizing academic objectives and curriculum through activities that encourage students to establish a professional identity and build industry- relevant skills is increasingly regarded as a best practice (2015). Beckem & Watkins’ research reaffirms that immersive learning environments can be constructed to contribute to workforce readiness and help students develop industry-relevant critical thinking skills (2012). Wei et al., Strickland et al., and Hou acknowledge that reinforcing shared cultural values contributes positively to the online professional community of practice and prepares students for professional roles in a global economy (Wei et al., 2015) (Strickland et al., 2013) (Hou, 2015).
  • 10. EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 10 Still, opposing perspectives suggest potential gaps in the research as well as a measured application of experiential learning in the online environment. Jamaludin et al. indicate that ambiguity inherent in simulations may prove frustrating for students who have not mastered foundational concepts, and provide evidence of best practices for developing engaging experiential learning explorations for students online (2009). Strickland acknowledges that real world internships are the best alternative, but experiential learning with an international audience in the online context may be an acceptable alternative for those who cannot afford international internships (Strickland et al., 2013). Although all studies focused on developing student competencies through experiential learning, none of the researchers incorporated industry perspectives or studies into the research. Also, none of the researchers incorporated career theory into frameworks for either analyzing data collected or determining which data to collect. Alvarez et al. notes a lack of alignment between current education and industry expectations for student performance and critical thinking (2015). Improving the Gap Still, career-related research gaps exist for most majors that do not require internship or experiential learning as part of study in the form of an internship, clinical study, or research. Future research is needed to evaluate how experiential learning design for online environments can align with High Impact Educational Practices (Kuh, 2008) and industry expectations. Little is known about the perceived and actual alignment between online students, faculty, and employer expectations of experiential learning (Alvarez et al., 2015). There is still much to learn about using experiential learning to align course learning objectives with industry needs. Conclusion
  • 11. EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING 11 Course-based experiential learning activities reinforce the campus culture and provide students with an opportunity to explore content in the context of academic and career goals. First, there is a relationship between campus roles, culture, and the student educational experience. Shared group values can be incorporated into online curriculum to enrich the learning experience and produce positive student evaluations (Hou, 2015). Second, student global competencies are enhanced when shared values are explored in a career-focused curricular experience online (Strickland et al., 2013). Since students in academia and career contexts interact with increasingly diverse cultures and fulfill roles related to a larger global context, experiential learning is more needed than ever to replicate the complexity inherent in these contexts (Hou, H.2015). Similarly, complexity in work-related context is increasing, and barriers to success in career fields are becoming clearer (Strickland et al., 2013). Finally introducing students into complex learning environments that require the experiential learning practices of exploration and reflection improves critical thinking. Adapting curriculum to apply career- related skills is an emerging best practice in higher education (Chen, Yang, Wang, & Zhang, 2013). As online enrollment continues to grow, the need for implementing experiential learning into the online environment will become increasingly important for educational institutions.
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