Experiential Learning Definitions

Key Components of Experiential Learning Activities

EL activities must meet the six guiding principles, outlined by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU). These principles are:

  1. The student is in a workplace or simulated workplace.
  2. The student is exposed to authentic demands that improve their employability, interpersonal skills and transition to the workforce.
  3. The experience is structured with purposeful and meaningful activities.
  4. The student applies university of college program knowledge and/or essential employability skills.
  5. The experience includes student self-assessment and evaluation of the student’s performance and learning outcomes by the employer and/or university/college.
  6. The experience counts towards course credit or credential completion OR is formally recognized by the college or university as meeting the five criteria above.


EL is a broader term which encompasses 14 unique types of EL activities, which includes work-integrated learning (see Figure 2). Work Integrated Learning (WIL) is a formal arrangement between an employer/organization and Mohawk College that enables students to learn while working on the job. Mohawk College has created 14 definitions to reflect its current EL activities.

Experiential Learning Infographic

Figure 2: Experiential Learning Activities

Applied Research Project or Course

Research that solves real world challenges and has immediate practical implications. Applied research is undertaken with an external organization in order to apply new knowledge, primarily towards a specific practical aim or objective. Applied research can occur at either a workplace or on campus.


An on-the-job training program for skilled trades that combines paid employment under the supervision of a certified journeyperson and in-class training from a post-secondary institution, with a specified amount of hours for both requirements. Apprenticeships are administered by the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities and the Ontario College of Trades.

Campus Incubator

Intended primarily to promote entrepreneurship and social initiatives. Incubators provide start-up assistance, physical space, mentorship, and support services that focus on early-stage entrepreneurs.

Capstone Project

A cumulative activity in the final semesters of a program that is based significantly on knowledge and skills acquired in earlier course work. It involves a creative, iterative, and often open-ended process using problem-based learning to address a project challenge. Students spend a significant amount of time, working independently or in a team environment, throughout the semester and translate their results using written reports, oral presentations, or poster presentations. Projects can involve qualitative or quantitative research.

Clinical (Mandatory Professional Practice)

Required as part of a health program of study with a scheduled number of unpaid hours in an environment that provides healthcare or related services to patients or the public. Clinical placements are an integral component of the curriculum and necessary for a professional association and accreditation. Placements can take place in primary, secondary, or community healthcare or social care settings.

Co-operative Education

Co-operative education alternates periods of academic study with periods of work; beginning and ending on an academic term. Paid work terms provide students with an opportunity for substantial and relevant work experience that complements academic study. A minimum of 12 weeks and/or 420 work hours is required during each four-month work term. Work terms must account for at least 30% of the time for academic programs over 3 years and 25% of the time for programs 2 years or less. The student’s performance in the workplace is supervised by the employer and is evaluated by Co-operative education, as part of their academic program of study.

Field Experience

Students explore academic content in a purposeful way outside the classroom through short-term field trips/field-work/site visits or through intensive and immersive experiences.

Field Placements

Scheduled hours of activities intended to give students hands-on experience in the workplace. Students are not expected to receive a regular salary. Field placements account for work-integrated education experiences not encompassed by other forms such as co-op, clinic, practicum, and internship.

Industry or Community Project

Students work with an organization, business, or industry within a classroom setting to explore challenges or opportunities and develop solutions and/or strategies to respond to identified challenges.


A supervised and structured program-related experience in a professional work environment that is offered as single block placement at end of program or single block placement alternating with an academic program. Internships are typically 4, 8, or 12 months long and can either be paid or unpaid.


In an on-campus controlled lab environment, students will observe, test, measure, apply course concepts, collaborate, and/or experience hands-on learning with tools, equipment, and resources utilized in a specific field or program of study.

Performance-based Learning

Students will produce, manage, curate, or participate in an artistic presentation, musical performance, or portfolio exhibit for an audience.

Practicum (Mandatory Professional Practice)

Experience required by both an academic program and a regulatory professional association where work hour requirements are mandatory for a professional license, certification, or registration. Professional skills are developed in an unpaid work setting or simulated work setting under the supervision of a registered or licensed professional.

Service Learning

Academically linked work experience designed to foster civic or social responsibility and leadership that is undertaken with a local, provincial, national, or international organization to address community or global needs. Integrates course content and critical reflection to produce meaningful outcomes in personal, academic, and civic learning. An instructor/professor facilitates the experience.


A teaching and learning strategy that involves an interactive and accurate representation of a field-specific situation or process, with or without the use of equipment/technology. Simulations are non-linear in nature and require students to utilize critical thinking skills to respond to ambiguity through direct decision-making.