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Build a Branch - Experiential Learning

By rooting education in the practice of tangible skills, students become empowered to see the relevance of their studies in the real world.

Photo of Amelia
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Students often find themselves balancing the attempt to follow their dreams and the pressure to be practical. Imagine a first-year student who is passionate about sociology but isn't sure what a career will look like. She ends up settling to study computer science.

How will the development of technology be influenced if it's produced on the basis practicality rather than rooted in innovation? The social sciences provide a path to solving some of the most central challenges in our world (oppression, domination, integration, division etc.)  Higher education can take the lead on connecting a multitude of different disciplines. By providing tangible skills and job experience into the curriculum we can begin to build a more intersectional job market. Integrating these different disciplines and combining more specific training experience with a degree could help create new pathways to occupations. We can redefine what is "practical" to study by putting direct skills in with traditional education. What if we made courses more hands on with built in project based curriculum. Imagine what a class like "Non Profit 101" might look like or if having an internship each academic year was built into receiving a degree.

Bellow are a few organizations working with experience/project based learning 


Let's break down the limitations that majors can present and focus more on helping students thrive in intersections of their education. This will ultimately aid higher education in making skill-building a main focus.

Specifically, please check all that apply:

  • A group brainstorm
  • An Individual
  • A classroom or academic assignment

Tell us about your work experience:

Second-year student at Mills College studying Sociology and Women's Gender & Sexuality Studies Circulation and Monitor Desk Student Assistant at F.W. Olin Library Youth Leader at The Mosaic Project - workshop facillitation with Bay Area youth on conflict resolution and appreciating diversity Jewish Youth for Community Action - Co-wrote and developed curriculum to lead weekly meetings on Judaism, activism and youth empowerment

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

What will truly inspire students? How can innovation build new jobs and new connections between disciplines? How might we re-define jobs through hands-on experiential learning in higher education?


Join the conversation:

Photo of Dan Ryan

@Amelia , this reminds me a little of conversation in connection with the Back to Basics post. The Bauhaus art school ( in the 1920s took the then radical move of combining fines arts and "ordinary" craft instruction under one roof. It'd be interesting to see what cross-fertilization might be possible between your ideas and that.  And, relatedly, the posts on coop education.

In my experience the thinking around "experiential" education tends to be pretty shallow. I think you are right to cajole us to stepping up our came a bit.

Photo of Max Noble

"How can innovation build new jobs and new connections between disciplines?" Good question. I've been working on this for awhile. The main challenge is older people (professors....haha). young people are naturals at fish in water.  

Photo of Heather Cowart

Amelia, you bring up a great idea. I know so many people that focus on a major that really isnt their passion, but due to practicality or so they believe they go in the direction that bores them to death. I like how you bring up that the world needs people who love what they do. It makes a person more willing to help another person pursue passion over the perecived need to find just a job.

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Amelia! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I look forward to seeing how it how it develops in the ideas phase (in 10 days time). The idea of a more skill-based, ‘interconnected’ degree seems more of a match to the real-world than a straightforward degree-based major. Do you envisage the introduction of educational experiences like massive open online courses (MOOCs) e.g. Udemy and/or intensive skill bootcamps like you see at General Assembly? Udemy - an example of a site where anyone can upload and sell a class on its open innovation platform = Would people take classes in sociology and modules in coding and marketing geared for sociology students i.e. they learn the skills of a developer but for a social purpose? Can you involve local businesses, alumni etc.? Here are a few examples of innovation programs that you might want to consider? MECA Challenge empowers students to solve real world problems - a one day student innovation challenge where students teams work on real life problems from startups - Ashoka U Cordes Innovation Awards which recognises and awards programs that seek to support social innovation in higher education - Harrison Gill Project Pericles: a non-profit organization composed of liberal arts colleges and universities that promotes civic engagement within higher education - posted by Emily Callon 

Photo of Alexina

Amelia Do you imagine a new curriculum that makes courses include a section in the semester where the professor is required to have students see the way the class relates to the job market? Or are you imagining courses that are designed from scratch to teach and have new focuses for students? I think this is very valuable and can help students, especially first years who are looking for a major to suit them as well as seniors who are getting ready to graduate and look for jobs.

Photo of Anna Burton

This is an awesome idea! I personally relate to this problem, myself. Are there any programs that currently exist that we can draw from for help?