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Center for Integrative and Experiential Learning

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Online Experiential Learning

As faculty and staff begin thinking about their experiential learning courses for the upcoming semester, including service-learning, community engagement, and internships, CIEL has compiled a list of resources to assist in the transition to an online or hybrid experiential learning course. For more information or to brainstorm options for your course, please contact our office at to set up an appointment.

Types of Online Experiential Learning

  1. Instruction and experience online
  2. Instruction online and experience on-site
  3. Instruction face-to-face and experience online
  4. Instruction and service partially online and partially on-site

Benefits of Online Experiential Learning

Online experiential learning opportunities (ELOs) offer many of the benefits of traditional ELOs and even include benefits that may go beyond the traditional experience. Due to the online setting, these online ELO's can bring students together with people from diverse geographic, cultural, social, and economic areas of the country or world and level the playing field for student engagement, especially for individuals with limited resources or the ability to participate in traditional ELOs. As some of the experiences are no longer place-dependent, service opportunities can go beyond the local area to allow students to engage in a variety of diverse experiences. For courses with integrated ELOs, the online environment enhances engagement by making course material more relevant and reinforcing course content. Students collaborate with their classmates to achieve shared goals while also engaging in team building, analysis, leadership, conflict resolution, communication using various media, organization, and time management skills.

Effective Teaching Tips

Many of the effective pedagogical practices for teaching experiential learning online overlap with those for face-to-face experiential learning courses, such as incorporating reflection and providing substantive feedback. There are also practices that are even more important in an online environment, such as building community and providing clear instructions. Below are some proven suggestions for teaching successful experiential learning courses online. 

  • Consider the type of tasks students will complete during their experience: problem-based, case-based, project-based or Kolb’s cycle of experiential learning.
  • Build community [pdf] early in the semester so that students feel comfortable sharing experiences and feelings, especially as they explore new ideas about social justice issues, action, and change. 
  • Provide opportunities for critical reflection and inquiry throughout the semester to help students gain multiple perspectives, engage with diverse ideas, assess their individual learning goals and collaborate with others to make meaning of their experience. Be sure to provide regular feedback on students' reflections. (Guthrie & McCracken, 2010; Marcus, Atan, Yusof, Tahir, 2020)
  • Offer opportunities for collaborative learning to promote community within the class and diversity of ideas.
  • Make use of Blackboard to engage students in dialogue about real world application, reflection, and their impact on organization. (Marcus, Atan, Yusof, Tahir, 2020)
  • Organize a space for group discussions on Blackboard and give students roles within their groups (team leader, contact person to community partner, note taker).
  • Include an experiential-learning contract [pdf] so that students understand and agree to course expectations.
  • Be flexible and adaptable as changes become necessary, and plan extra time for unexpected outcomes. 

Assignment Ideas for Online ELOs

Community Partner Projects: Write or assist with grant proposals for a non-profit organization; identify, analyze, and conduct research on an important issue or problem; create or contribute to a website; develop a marketing plan and materials (brochure, flier, website, advertisement, newspaper advertisement); review community partner satisfaction when service is complete.

Case Studies/Applied Research: Apply learning to real-life scenarios by working through complex, ambiguous real-world problems and defining, analyzing and solving the challenge; conduct a scavenger hunt within the community on a certain topic guided by specific reflection questions, share results with classmates, then apply that learning to new ideas or plans about the topic, such as public transportation, homelessness, or food deserts in the community; synthesize and/or apply information to solve a problem in an original way.

Performance-based Learning: Participate in online games or virtual reality; engage in individual or team-produced dramatic, artistic or musical performance, exhibit or display that is prepared for an audience.



Best Practices in Experiential Learning from McGill University 

Experiential Learning site from the University of Calgary

Seven-Sequence Process for integrating experiential learning into a course

National Society for Experiential Education

Carleton University’s Experiential Learning page with sample task and descriptions

Experiential Learning Toolkit 
Comprehensive site with modules on how to design EL courses, frameworks to use, instructional strategies, facilitating EL opportunities, and facilitating reflection

Oregon State University Ecampus Course Development and Training: Resource for online experiential learning

Overview of online experiential learning from Campus Compact

Design models of experiential learning and tips for EL online

4 Tips for Adapting an Experiential Learning Course from Real World to Online—during (and after) the Coronavirus

Online Resources for Science Laboratories

K-12 Suggestions that might spark ideas for your course

List of Virtual Service Opportunities from the University of Central Arkansas

Catchafire - matches professionals who want to donate their time with nonprofits who need their skills

Global Internships

Volunteer Match - Matches volunteers with non-profit organizations, including virtual options 

Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2004). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction [pdf]. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Jossey-Bass.

Eyler, J. (2009). The Power of Experiential Education. Liberal Education, 95(4). 

Guthrie, K.L., McCracken, H. (2010). Making a difference online: Facilitating service-learning through distance education. Internet and Higher Education, 13, 153-157.

Guthrie, K. & McCracken, H. (2010). Teaching and Learning Social Justice through Online Service-Learning Courses [pdf]. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 11(3).

Hervani, A., Helms, M., Rutti, R., LaBonte, J., Sarkarat, S. (2015). Service-learning projects in online courses: Delivery strategies [pdf]. Journal of Learning in Higher Education, 11(1), pp. 35-40. 

Lehman, R., & Conceição, S. (2010). Creating a sense of presence in online teaching: How to “be there” for distance learners. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Marcus, V., Atan, N., Yusof, S., Tahir, L. (2020). A systematic review of e-service learning in higher education [pdf]. iJIM, 14(6)

Seifer, S. D., & Mihalynuk, T. V. (2005). The use of technology in higher education service-learning [pdf]. 

Strait, J., & Sauer, T. (2004). Constructing experiential learning for online courses: The birth of e-service. 

Waldner, L., McGorry, S., & Widener, M. (2010). Extreme e-service learning (XE-SL): E-service learning in the 100% online course [pdf]. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6 (4), 839-851. 

Waldner, L. S., McGorry, S. Y., & Widener, M. C. (2012). E-service learning: The evolution of service- learning to engage a growing online student population [pdf]. Journal of Higher Education Outreach & Engagement, 16 (2), 123-150.



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