Experiential learning opportunities can serve as a nexus point for drawing together what students are learning about their discipline or profession with broad-based employability skills -- meeting the needs and interests of both students and employers -- but some intentionality in the design of the experience is necessary to make this happen. Seeking alignment between program-specific learning outcomes and the “soft skills” or “human skills” that employers commonly value, and then engineering experiential learning opportunities that will allow students to learn about and reflect on the connections deliberately, can be a productive approach for educators. This module discusses employer expectations, student skill development, and the design of assessments in EL.

This module has been designed for Faculty and Academic Leaders.

What do employers expect from students in EL opportunities?

Examples and Artifacts

research What are employers looking for?
The recent focus on the perceived skills gap has led to some informative research and reporting that can help us to understand what specific and broad-based skills we might want to cultivate through experiential learning. This document summarizes some of this research.

definitions Placing learning at the forefront
This document provides explanations of how EL supports student learning.

table Responsibilities and expectations
This document details the responsibilities and expectations for EL team members.

External Links

link Business Higher Education Roundtable (BHER)
BHER is a joint endeavour of Canadian colleges and universities and a selection of major Canadian businesses. The goal of the roundtable is to improve linkages and collaboration between employers and educational institutions so that postsecondary graduates can enter the workforce well prepared.

link Business Council of Canada (BCC)
BCC is a not-for-profit, non-partisan organization representing business leaders in every region and sector of the country.

link Work Integrated Learning Open Module Initiative
Developed by Niagara College, Georgian College, and Algonquin College, this comprehensive set of open access, learner-centred modules supports Work Integrated Learning preparedness among post-secondary students.

link Employment: The Much Needed Ultimate Student Learning Outcome
This article explains the gap in a student's understanding of what is learned through curriculum and how it translates to workforce skills—the "skill awareness gap." Emphasizes the importance of/opportunity for educators to demonstrate the linkage between curriculum and employability (in EL).

How can an EL opportunity help students to develop technical, vocational or disciplinary knowledge as well as broad-based employability skills?

Examples and Artifacts

research Course-level learning outcomes
This presentation serves as a primer on course-level learning outcomes.

table Aligning teaching with learning outcomes
Once you have determined your learning outcomes, you should consider the alignment between your learning outcomes and the selected experiential learning activity. This document outlines a number of these considerations.

list The USEM Model of employability
One model that may be relevant for fine-tuning curriculum to enhance a students’ employability is the USEM model, where employability is seen as being influenced by four areas: Understanding, Skills, Efficacy (beliefs, students’ self-theories and personal qualities), and Metacognition (encompassing self-awareness regarding the student’s learning, and the
capacity to reflect on, in and for action).

To further flesh out the model, a study called the Skills plus project explored 39 aspects of employability to assist departments in examination of their curricula from the point of view of employability. The work was conducted by the Higher Education Academy and the list was published in one of their papers called “Embedding employability into the curriculum”, authored by Prof, Mantz York and Prof. Peter Knight. The 39 “aspects” of employability are divided into three groupings:

External Resources

link Core Competencies
Review the core competencies that have been collected by the Teaching Commons at York University and the Experiential Education Readiness Checklist.

document Higher Education Council of Ontario Learning Outcomes Assessment Handbook
This handbook serves as a resource for program design/review, and the assessment of program-level learning outcomes. Published by HEQCO, 2015.

document Writing Learning Outcomes
This document from OCADU outlines best practices for writing learning outcomes.

document "Soft" Skills are Hard
This study provides a systematic review of the academic and “grey” literature on “soft” skills in Canada. A key word search was used to pull a broad range of articles and papers which were coded and analysed to explore the ways in which “soft” skills are defined, developed and measured.

document OECD reviews of vocational education and training - learning for jobs. Pointers for policy development
The document provides a programme of analytical and individual country reviews designed to help countries make their vocational education and training systems more responsive to labour market needs.

link What are Vocational Skills?

link Essential Employability Skills

chart   Skills Gap for Baseline Skills
In 2015, Burning Glass Technologies released a study comparing how often employers requested specific skills in job ads, with its importance in the day to day role as measured by O*NET job profiles – a federally-sponsored industrial-organizational occupational inventory. To visualize some of the most significant skill gaps, their study presents these skill-occupation combinations in blue in this colour-coded diagram below. Darker blue indicates evidence of a larger skills gap.

Graphic © Burning Glass Technologies, used with permission

How can we design assessments to support and evaluate student performance in EL?

Examples and Artifacts

list Assessment of work-based learning
Reflective learning activities for formative or summative assessment purposes are the key to helping students to evaluate their own learning and for instructors to elicit evidence of learning. This document provides guidance on EL assessment.

list Reflective assessments
Reflective learning activities for formative or summative assessment purposes are the key to helping students to evaluate their own learning and for instructors to elicit evidence of learning.

External Links

document Guidelines for assessment of experiential learning
McGill University Teaching and Learning Services offers a guide that provides an introduction to experiential learning, summarizes several strategies for assessing experiential learning, and offers case studies with potential in-class applications.

link Experiential Learning Hub
This website from Queen's University includes helpful templates, resources and reports for faculty structuring experiential learning opportunities. For assessment, they offer rubrics for the experiential learning cycle, reflecting on EL experience, and student placement performance.

document Assessing Experiential Learning in Engineering
This document from Ryerson University discusses the unique issues involved in assessing experiential learning in engineering.

link Categories & Examples of Experiential Education
This guidebook from Brock University includes examples of course assignments featured within experiential learning course outlines.

Planning and development worksheet

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Recommended next module:

Faculty and Academic Leaders: Finding and Cultivating EL Partners and Resources