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Experiential Learning

Getting ready: A journey to improved learning

Experiential Learning Strategic Plan Waterloo Region District School Board

01: Getting ready


We are a leader in K-12 experiential learning; preparing students and graduates for learning, life, and fulfillment

" For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them."



Students, staff, and families are inspired to connect to the constantly changing opportunities within and beyond their immediate community.

They are enabled to apply and assess their knowledge, skills, and experiences in settings beyond school that challenge them to learn, grow, and contribute wherever they go.

" The first step in knowledge is to listen, then to be quiet and attentive, then to preserve it, then to put it into practice, and then to spread it."

-Sufan bin Uyainah

Experiential Learning Goals

All of us can benefit from and develop:

  • a reflective habit of mind to derive meaning from our experiences;

  • the ability to apply (e.g., transfer) learning to influence decisions and actions in various aspects of life;

  • the skills, knowledge, and habits of mind required to be competent and confident education and career/life planners;

  • and more.


  • What is an important goal that you feel should be emphasized?
  • Does the vision, mission, and intent expressed so far for experiential learning help or hinder in addressing perspectives on education?
  • Is this vision broad and inspiring?
  • Is this mission worthwhile? Does it provide focus?

What do we Hope to Achieve?

  • Improved Information
  • Increased Access
  • Improved Quality
  • Develop and distribute clear, understandable information about experiential learning
  • Increase access to experiential learning placements and opportunities
  • Improve the quality of student experiences, engagement, and learning
" We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience."

-John Dewey

How will We Know We've Been Successful?

  • Experiential learning is positive and memorable
  • More experiential learning opportunities are available for me
  • I can easily find and navigate through information about experiential learning
  • Information about experiential learning is clear to me
  • Experiential learning is useful in pursuing my interests and passions
  • I am more interested in experiential learning information or opportunities
  • I have a better understanding of experiential learning

Strategic Plan

This communicates the goals for improving experiential learning, the actions needed to achieve those goals, and other critical elements identified through the strategic planning process.

This strategic plan attempts to communicate details while also seeking to refine and improve the plan. It involves a strategy that is undergoing revisions even as we implement it. It is dynamic and responsive to feedback and changes in circumstances, priorities, and resources.


  • So far, does it generally seem like the components of the plan are clear and make sense?
  • So far, is the information straightforward and easy to understand?

02: Strategic planning

Strategic Planning

This is a disciplined effort producing fundamental decisions and actions, with a focus on the future, that shape and guide:

  • what experiential learning is
  • who it serves
  • what it does
  • why it does it
  • where it is going (goals)
  • actions to achieve goals
  • how we know we’re on the right track

It involves a cycle of planning, acting, observing (assessing), and reflecting to refine and achieve the goals of the strategic plan.

Strategic Planning is used to:

  • set priorities
  • establish agreeement on outcomes
  • assess and adjust direction
  • focus energy and resources
  • strengthen operations
  • ensure work toward common goals

Vision and Mission Statements

A Vision Statement is an aspirational declaration of the objective for experiential learning.

It is intended to guide and inspire internal decision-making, action and resource allocation.

It is typically broad in scope.

It should be clearly reflected in the strategic plan.

The actions arising from the strategic plan should contribute to achieving the stated vision.

A Mission Statement describes the fundamental purpose of what experiential learning does or is intended to do and for whom.


Goals are the things that we hope to improve in experiential learning.

The strategic goals of this plan focus on improving communication, increasing access, and improving quality. These goals are intended to have the most effective and wide-ranging positive impact in improving experiential learning for students. The strategic goals and related actions are developed and implemented by the steering team with support, input, and effort from others interested or involved in experiential learning.

Other goals are tactical. These are not identified in this plan. Tactical goals are often developed and achieved by a school, group of schools, a sector of employers, or others. Achieving tactical goals involves understanding and addressing the specific circumstances and needs across a more defined group or setting.

Operational goals are not identified in this plan. They involve setting goals and taking actions based on familiarity with the circumstances and needs of individuals or settings. Operational goals are often determined by those working closest to a particular setting or group. They are based on tactical goals identified to best utilize resource, opportunities, and expertise across a group or larger setting. Operational and tactical goals are used to achieve the broader Strategic goals intended to bring the most benefit to the most people across a system, community, or society.

Broad goals

The broad goals for experiential learning include all of those attributes or outcomes students are intended to obtain as a result of participating in experiential learning.

These include:

Ontario Ministry of Education

The goals of Cooperative Education that relate to experiential learning are outlined in the document titled Cooperative Education (Ministry of Ontario, 2018) include the fact that all students can benefit from and will develop:

  • a reflective habit of mind to derive meaning from their experiences;
  • the ability to apply (e.g., transfer) their learning to influence decisions and actions in various aspects of their lives;
  • the skills, knowledge, and habits of mind required to become competent and confident education and career/life planners.
" This transformation will help inspire students to think big, to aspire for better jobs, and to support the creation of a credible career pathway so they can succeed in a competitive global marketplace."

-Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education

System Goals

In addition, the goals for experiential learning in the WRDSB include:

  • Educating elementary and secondary students about their opportunities, passions, interests, preferences, strengths, and needs that can assist them in growing as learners, students, and people.

  • Developing skills and providing experiences that prepare students for the world, life, and their post-secondary destinations.

  • Promoting a culture of innovation and openness in expanding and integrating experiential learning into instructional practices and student experiences.

  • Increasing the resource base of discipline, interest-relevant, and service-based employers or experience providers.

" Our schools and classrooms must be ever-evolving to help best prepare students for success on their chosen pathways after graduation."

-John Bryant, 2019 Director's Annual Report


The strategic goals for improving Experiential Learning are linked most closely to the following priorities in the WRDSB Strategic Plan:

  • Our students pursue individual learning pathways that reflect their interests, develop skills for the future, and inspire global citizenship

  • Our students succeed in reaching their potential and graduating from WRDSB schools and programs

  • Our families and caregivers are supported in creating the best possible outcomes for our students

  • Our staff is equipped with the skills and resources to support every child in their learning journey

  • Our learning environments include all students and diverse perspectives and ideas

How Did This Plan Come to Be?

" - Respect all living things
- Work for the common good
- Continually plan and prepare for a better future
- Maintain harmony and balance "

-Maligait, Inuit Foundational Laws

Steering Team

A coalition in the form of a steering team of interested representatives from across the region came together under leadership from the Waterloo Region District Board to think about learning. They thought about how it could be more engaging, accessible, and beneficial for students, families, community members, employers, educators, and society.

Steering team members:

  • Possess insight, expertise, or experience on learning from different perspectives
  • Represent an agile thinking and planning team with representatives from the following groups:
  • Student and Family
  • Teacher
  • Administrator
  • Community
  • Business
  • Educator
  • Work collaboratively to refine, implement, review, and assess plans and actions to achieve the goals identified in the experiential learning strategic plan. These relate to:
  • Improved Communications
  • Increased Access
  • Improved Quality

The steering team seeks insight, feedback, and support from many sources, including:

  • Students
  • Business
  • Research
  • Families
  • Post-Secondary
  • Educators
  • Community
  • OYAP, SHSM, or other system initiatives
  • Prospective Participants/Graduates

The strategy associated with the plan is dynamic. The strategy is continually informed by reflection on user experience. Feedback is sought from others in various capacities who are interested or are engaged with learning, particularly relating to experiential learning.

03: Thinking components

10 Questions

10 questions that have driven the thinking about, learning, and, more explicitly, a strategic plan for experiential learning, are:

  1. Why are we doing this?
  2. What is experiential learning?
  3. What do others think about experiential learning?
  4. What is evidence of improved experiential learning?
  5. How will we assess progress?
  6. What’s currently in place?
  7. What’s the plan to improve?
  8. Who can help?
  9. What are we overlooking?
  10. What next?

Why is Experiential Learning Crucial?

Why is Experiential Learning crucial in achieving the priorities of the WRDSB?

Experiential learning has benefits in a number of areas. A significant body of research and practice indicates that students are more engaged, more motivated to learn, and more successful when they reflect on their experiences and connect what they are learning to situations they care about in their personal lives, their community, and the world around them. Following is a summary of some benefits for students, embedded with supporting references.

*- Increases self-esteem, engagement, motivation, and social and leadership skills

- Increases persistence, course completion, attendance, graduation, and employment rates, with notable gains for students from underserved racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds

- Increases student’s exposure to occupations and careers otherwise unknown to them

What is Experiential Learning?

Experiential learning is an inquiry-based, pedagogical approach that provides opportunities for students to co-construct their learning by participating in rich experiences connected to a community outside school; reflecting on those experiences to derive meaning; and applying their learning to influence their decisions and actions in various aspects of their lives.

Experiential learning shares commonalities with other forms of work/education experiences, but, like service learning and project-based learning, it does not necessarily involve actual work experience. As a movement, experiential learning is grounded in the early writings of John Dewey, especially Experience and Education (1938). The Association for Experiential Education (2013) defines it as “a philosophy that informs many methodologies, in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities” (Association of Experiential Education).

Experiential learning provides an important vehicle by which diverse communities can collaborate to ensure that the interests, needs, strengths, and aspirations of all students are recognized and reflected in the educational experience. It builds on a significant body of research and practice that indicate that students are more engaged, more motivated to learn, and more successful when they reflect on their experiences and connect what they are learning to situations they care about in their personal lives, their community, and the world around them.

Experiential Learning Criteria

The following are criteria is based on the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Experiential Learning Cycle (i.e., Participate, Reflect, Apply) and the work-integrated learning framework developed by McCrea and Johnston (2016).

Experiential Learning is characterized by the following attributes and associated characteristics. These include:

  • Has direct learner involvement (is hands-on and learner’s choice)
  • Is meaningful & substantial (not just watching, has impact)
  • Is situated and authentic in a place where the learning is directly related to the experience, considering costs, access, health, and safety factors (e.g., learning about turtles should be outdoors)
  • Embraces disruptive moments and supports personal exploration of one’s beliefs and values
Curriculum Integration
  • Learning outcomes are clearly stated and measured
  • Outcomes and assessment are aligned
  • Experiential and academic learning are connected for, and by, the student
Student Outcomes
  • Participate and are immersed in an experience
  • Learn by doing, observing, or thinking about the experience
  • Skills, knowledge, and understanding are challenged and developed
  • New meaning is constructed by connecting previous learning and experience with new learning
Reflection and Application
  • Students identify what they learned about themselves, their values, their beliefs, others, and future opportunities; often with the support, mediation, and assessments of others
  • Identify visceral, emotional connection to the experience (e.g., how they felt, sensations of time, attentiveness, etc.)
  • Apply learning to inform and shape decisions, opinions, goals, and plans
  • Actively practice and develop their skills, build more knowledge, and extend their experiences

Forms of Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning helps achieve the goals of the Kindergarten to Grade 12 education and career/life-planning program, part of the curriculum in Ontario, which strives to:

  • ensure that all students develop the knowledge and skills they need to make informed education and career/life choices;
  • provide classroom and school-wide opportunities for this learning; and
  • engage parents and the broader community in the development, implementation, and evaluation of the program, to support students in their learning.

Four broad categories of experiential learning are available in the WRDSB. They include: Work-Integrated, Community-Based, Experiential Education, and Work-Based Experiential Learning. Details on each follow:

Work-Integrated Experiential Learning

This includes educational experiences which combine and integrate learning and a workplace application, regardless of whether this integration occurs in or is related to a work place. These experiences include: *- Cooperative Education, Specialized Co-Op

  • Apprenticeship
  • Specialist High Skills Major(s)
  • Job Shadowing
  • Practicums
  • Take Your Kid to Work
  • Field Trips/Studies
  • Guest Speakers/Workshops/Tours/Career Fairs
  • Other*
Community-Based Experiential Learning

This learning occurs in the broader community and does not necessarily link the experience to a work assignment. It involves personal reflection on the learning that occurs through the challenges and opportunities inherent in the experience. This type of learning could include:

  • Service Learning – learning through providing a service or contributing time or energy to others
  • Community Engagement - impacts a specific, localized problem or issue; for example, it may be within the school, the city, or region
  • Civic Engagement - social responsibility in a larger context, working on global or national problems or issues, and instilling a life-long commitment to the resolution of those problems or similar issues
  • Selective Leadership and Peer Support Programs – learning by providing leadership, mentorship, or supporting a peer
  • Other
Experiential Education

Experiential Education centers on an authentic task and is does not necessitate actual work experience or connection to a work place. It often involves collaborative work in small groups focused on topics integrating concepts from a number of disciplines or fields of study or activities involving challenges, appreciation, and problem solving. Students explore or pursue solutions to problems and reflect on their learning at various stages in the experience. This can include: *- Outdoor Education

  • Activity-Based Learning –camps, mentorship, immersive experiences
  • Collaborative Problem Solving
  • Problem-Based Learning
  • Tours/Workshops/Guest Speakers
  • Other*
Work-Based Experiential Learning

Work-Based Learning involves experiential learning and critical reflection in the creation of new professional knowledge (Clarke & Copeland 2003, Gallagher & Holland 2004), and/or learning that is designed to meet the needs of the workplace as well as the learner (Swallow et al. 2001, Clarke & Copeland 2003, Sobiechowska & Maisch 2006). Raelin’s (1997) description of work-based learning includes: (1) learning that is acquired in the midst of action and dedicated to the task at hand, (2) knowledge that is created and utilized as a collective activity where learning is everyone’s job; and (3) demonstration of learning to-learn aptitude, allowing questions of underlying assumptions of practice. This can include: *- Professional Learning

  • Professional Development
  • Action Research
  • Job Shadowing/Exchanges
  • Investigations or Research Study
  • Other *

Experiential Learning: 4-Step Inquiry

Experiential learning may be framed within the four-step inquiry process in education and career/life-planning, based on four inquiry questions linked to four areas of learning:

  1. Knowing yourself – Who am I?
  2. Exploring opportunities – What are my opportunities?
  3. Making decisions and setting goals – Who do I want to become?
  4. Achieving goals and making transitions – What is my plan for achieving my goals?

One goal for consideration by classroom teachers and learning experience providers is to support students in education and career/life-planning by providing them with learning opportunities, filtered through the lens of the four inquiry questions. This approach may allow students to apply subject-specific knowledge and skills; explore subject-related education and career/life options; and become competent, self-directed planners. Providing opportunities to relate classroom learning to education and career/life-planning will prepare students for success in school, work, and life.


Was the amount of information provided on Experiential Learning about right?

Was the information on Experiential Learning clear and easy to understand?

Cooperative Education

Cooperative Education is a highly immersive form of experiential learning. The curriculum outlined in the Cooperative Education document is designed to enable students to apply, refine, and extend their classroom learning in a community context outside school and, with the experience gained in the community context, to refine and extend their learning in the classroom not only in the Cooperative Education course, but also in subsequent courses.

Cooperative Education, as defined in the document titled Cooperative Education (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018) promotes the acquisition and refinement of skills, knowledge, and habits of mind that support education and career/life-planning and foster positive attitudes towards learning that help students become independent, lifelong learners.

What do Others Think?

What is informing the thinking about Experiential Learning and the actions in the Strategic Plan?

Cooperative Education. The Ontario Curriculum. Grades 11 and 12, 2018: This document sets out curriculum policy for Cooperative Education and implementation policy relevant to Cooperative Education (a highly immersive form of Experiential Learning) and other forms of Experiential Learning in Ontario secondary schools.

Work-Integrated Learning Framework: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, 2016: This guide is intended to serve as a resource to enhance student learning and development in higher education through the structured work experience.

The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice. Organization for Economic Cooperative and Development, 2010: This is a review of extensive research on learning, identifying key lessons or principles guiding the design of learning environments.

Towards a Future-Ready Talent Framework for Cooperative and Work-Integrated Learning. N. McRae, D. Church, J. Woodside, D. Drewery, A. Fannon and J. Pretti. Cooperative and Experiential Learning, University of Waterloo, Canada. 2019: This framework identifies explicit learning outcomes, clear expectations for students, and equips organizations with a common language to interact with post-secondary institutions, educators, and students. It is comprised of four different skill sets: Expand Expertise, Develop Self, Build Relationships, and Design & Deliver Solutions.


What is evidence of improved Experiential Learning?

Measureable evidence demonstrating that the goals of the strategic plan are being met could include:

  • The information is distributed, clarifying Experiential Learning for various audiences
  • There is increased access to Experiential Learning information by various audiences
  • There is increased quality of experiences, engagement, and learning
  • There is improved understanding of Experiential Learning by various audiences
  • There is an increasing number of Experiential Learning opportunities
  • There is an increasing number of students participating in Experiential Learning opportunities (including Cooperative Education)

Assessing Progress

How will we assess progress and the achievement of our improvement goals?

Assessing the attainment of the improvement goals involves gathering feedback on the experiences, perceptions, and actions of students, parents and families, partners (business and community experience providers), and educators (teachers, administrators, and others). Feedback on the 3 key goals will be gathered through:

  • closed-answer responses
  • open-ended responses
  • extended-response interviews
  • specific data points

What's the Plan?

Information - Action Plan

  1. Research and Development Review literature, seek stakeholder input, and identify effective communication tools, strategies, and resources for informing audiences about Experiential Learning. April 2020 – June 2020

  2. Develop EL Communication Strategy Prototype Develop an initial (draft) communication strategy prototype, including a website and associated components: Strat Plan, stories, resources, etc. May 2020 – June 2020

  3. Review EL Communication Prototype Review the communication prototype with the WRDSB EL Steering Team and other stakeholders. June 2020

  4. Implement EL Communication Refine communication strategy based on feedback on the prototype and implement refined strategy (website and components). June 2020 – Aug. 2020

  5. Complete Implementation of EL Communication Complete implementation of EL communication strategy (website and components). Aug. 2020 – Sept. 2020

  6. Review and refine EL Communication Strategy based on Feedback Analysis Review and analyze EL communication feedback. Refine and update EL communication strategy based on analysis. Sept. 2020 – Dec. 2020

Access - Action Plan

  1. Research and Development Review literature, feedback, and examples of Experiential Learning placements and opportunities from various sources. April 2020 – May 2020

  2. Identify EL Placements and Opportunities Priorities Identify programs or practices, judged to be higher yield based on a variety of feedback, for increasing access to EL placements and opportunities (i.e., ExL internship, Virtual Coop, Take Your Kid to Work at Home, EL placements, and opportunities Data Base). April 2020 – May 2020

  3. Finalize EL Placements and Opportunities Priorities Confirm priorities for expanding EL Placements and Opportunities - ExL internship, Virtual Coop, Take Your Kid to Work at Home, EL placements, and opportunities Data Base. May 2020

  4. Develop EL Placements and Opportunities Priorities Develop background info, resources, supports, and processes for implementing ExL internship, Virtual Coop, Take Your Kid to Work at Home, EL placements, and opportunities Data Base. May 2020 – August 2020

  5. Implement EL Placements and Opportunities Priorities Implement ExL internship, Virtual Coop, Take Your Kid to Work at Home, EL placements, and opportunities Data Base. June 2020 – Dec. 2020

  6. Review and Refine Priorities Review and analyze feedback on EL priorities and adapt implementation to address feedback. June 2020 – Dec. 2020

Quality - Action Plan

  1. Research and Development Review literature, feedback, and examples of Experiential Learning experiences, engagement, and learning from various sources. April 2020 – May 2020

  2. Identify baseline assessments for determining the quality of experiences, engagement, and learning Identify assessment tools, judged to be higher yield based on a variety of feedback, for assessing the quality of Experiential Learning experiences, engagement, and learning. April 2020 – June 2020

  3. Finalize Assessment Plan Confirm tools and a plan for assessing a variety of Experiential Learning opportunities. June 2020

  4. Develop EL Quality Assessment Priorities Develop background info, resources, supports, and processes for assessing the quality of a variety of EL opportunities. May 2020 – August 2020

  5. Implement EL Quality Assessment Priorities Implement assessment tools and establish initial baseline data on perceived quality of various EL opportunities. June 2020 – Dec. 2020

  6. Review and Refine EL Assessment Priorities Review and analyze feedback from EL assessment tools and priorities and adapt implementation to address feedback. June 2020 – Dec. 2020

Rationale for the Plan

The goals and actions outlined in the strategic plan for improving experiential learning are pragmatic and attainable. Evidence and feedback suggest that the focus on improving information, increasing access, and improving quality related to Experiential Learning, are foundational to achieving other improvements, such as:

  • improving the understanding of Experiential Learning
  • increasing the number of Experiential Learning opportunities
  • increasing the number of students participating in Experiential Learning
  • increasing the quality of more Experiential Learning opportunities for more students

Who Can Help?

We work in partnership with our community, students and their families, educators, and others. Evidence, feedback, and research have contributed to our thinking and plans.

However, needs and situations change. We constantly are trying to tweak and refine so that the learning experiences and opportunities for all are clear, accessible, relevant, helpful, and rewarding.

Our students and their families regularly contribute their feedback, suggestions, and insights on how Experiential Learning can better meet student strengths, needs, preferences, interests, and aspirations.

Our teachers and administrators, support staff, and central staff deal with a multitude of situations and attempt to adjust the Experiential Learning services, support, and programming they offer for students continually.

Our community partners, including businesses, experience providers, the Ministry of Education, other school districts, the University of Waterloo and other post-secondary institutions, the Business and Education partnership, and other interested supporters offer insight, suggestions, support, and direction to help us improve programming and experiences.

Still, in our quest to improve and personalize learning to best meet student needs, we need more help...

We need your help!

What are we Overlooking?

In a world that is rapidly changing and confronted by unprecedented challenges, we are overlooking some things.

Personalization, online and blended learning, wellness, micro assessments, virtual and augmented reality, continually shifting technological tools and platforms, expanding uses of data, etc.; these are some trends, opportunities, and pressures that education can consider, dismiss, or incorporate as it strives to be relevant and helpful.

Add to the mix issues such as globalization, climate change, environmental sustainability, shifting demographics, alterations to working and living patterns, issues of disparity, and equity, and it makes proactive thinking about learning even more compelling.

An area that Experiential Learning focuses on is learning through reflections on experience and applying that. The global pandemic of 2020 has focused thinking on how to provide more flexibility for students and their families to learn. The details on “Take our Kids to Work" (at home) provides one illustration on how the experiential learning strategic plan is facilitating the ability to respond.

What's Next?

We learn by doing. We need to do. We need to reflect. We need to learn. We need to do again, armed with our new learning. We need to repeat. This is what’s next. Your feedback and suggestions will help.


Canadian Association for Co-operative Education. (2005) Education Manual: A Guide to Planning and Implementing Co-operative Education Programs in Post-Secondary Institutions.

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Speirs, N.M., S.C. Riley and G. McCabe. (2017) Student-Led, Individually-Created Courses: Using Structured Reflection within Experiential Learning to Enable Widening Participation Students’ Transitions Through and Beyond Higher Education. Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Research. Vol. 5, Issue 2., p. 51-55. University of Edinburgh, UK.

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