At Northeastern University, we create the conditions for robust, deep and flexible learning that will prepare our students for a life of fulfillment and accomplishment in a world that is continually changing. We do this through our experiential learning model which is, simply put, learning by doing. This type of learning integrates theory and practice because “theory lacks meaning outside of practice (Eyler, 2009).” While experiential learning can and does happen in classroom, lab and studio situations, it is much more powerful and robust when students have opportunities to use their knowledge and practice their skills in authentic, real-world situations. Furthermore, experiential education prompts new learning when students are put in unfamiliar situations for which they are not prepared and yet must act in order to get a job done; in other words, it provides practice in using self-directed learning skills which students will need to invoke throughout their lives in order to continuously meet new challenges.
Situated within a university education, experiential learning enables students to bring back and integrate into the classroom, lab, or studio the authentic applications of their knowledge and skills as well as the new knowledge and skills they have gained. Thus experiential learning not only strengthens and deepens what students already know and can do, but also provides an expanded platform for future/further learning. In other words, experiential learning opportunities and the students’ formal academic program inform and complement each other.
At Northeastern, we provide opportunities for experiential learning in several venues: through co-op, service learning, and research and creative activities. We expect that, by the end of these activities, our students should be able to
- Apply knowledge and skills in new, authentic contexts, thus gaining a deeper understanding, i.e., recognizing what to use, how, and when;
- Gain new knowledge and develop new skills to successfully engage in unfamiliar tasks, activities, etc., thus gaining the ability needed for continuous, life-long, self-directed learning, i.e., recognizing what they don’t know and figuring out how to learn it or compensate for it;
- Integrate and use the deepened knowledge and skills as well as the newly gained knowledge and skills to continue to learn in their academic programs; and
- Reflect on and articulate the above, i.e., discussing how they used their knowledge and skills, how they gained new knowledge and skills, and how “theory and practice” work together, thus developing skills of metacognition, another element of life-long, self-directed learning.
More specifically, as a result of co-op, we expect our students to be able to:
- Integrate knowledge and skills learned in the classroom and co-op to identify and solve problems.
- Gain new knowledge and develop new skills to successfully engage in unfamiliar activities and projects.
- Identify and leverage opportunities to learn beyond the classroom.
- Articulate the intellectual skills that underlie the work they engage in.
- Assess, critique, and improve their work.
- Adapt their behavior to different audiences they interact with (e.g., communicate, self-representation, etc.).
- Behave professionally in various environments (i.e., team, independent, etc.) by adhering to ethical standards and being accountable for their commitments.