Experiential Learning in Higher Education: Implications for Improving Employability of FCS Graduates

By Brooks, Lisa; Simpson, Linda | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Experiential Learning in Higher Education: Implications for Improving Employability of FCS Graduates


Brooks, Lisa, Simpson, Linda, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


The purpose of this study was to examine graduates' perceptions of transferable employment skills received as a result of experiential learning. Participants (n = 205) included college alumni at a Midwestern university who had participated in the experiential learning areas of study abroad programs and/or internships. A questionnaire was developed based on the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) report to investigate skills and competencies needed to he successful in the workforce (U. S. Department of Labor, 2000). Respondents were satisfied with the impact experiential learning had on their personal growth, professional growth, and their ability to gain employment.

Many university programs accredited by the American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences (AAFCS) have adopted mission and vision statements that link their educational purposes to preparing students to improve the global society through a life span perspective. Experiential learning is a powerful pedagogical approach that coincides with the mission of family and consumer sciences (FCS) university programs in that it emphasizes the role of formal education in the development of individuals, family members, and global citizens (Kolb, 1984).

Despite the prevalence of experiential learning in FCS, limited research exists within the discipline on how experiential learning affects graduates' preparation for the workforce and their perceptions of the impact of this pedagogical approach. To address this gap, this article draws insights and inspirations from the high-impact educational practices research undertaken by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) (Kuh, 2008). Research has demonstrated that high-impact educational practices, including internships and study abroad programs, have a significant impact on all students' success, suggesting that FCS students can benefit from this approach to learning.

As with other disciplines, experiential learning within FCS may occur through a variety of educational opportunities such as internships, cooperative education, classroom laboratories, real-world simulations, service learning, and study abroad programs. Experiential learning within FCS can provide transferable skills that will prepare college students to succeed in the workforce and as global citizens. Furthermore, the integrative and applied focus of FCS positions the discipline to provide experiential learning practices that facilitate students' professional and personal development. This article focuses on internships and study abroad programs, due to their popularity within higher education and the FCS discipline.

Education,Work, and Personal Development

Experiential learning provides a pedagogical framework for understanding the connections that exist between education, work, and personal development (Kolb, 1984). It emphasizes the importance of linking classroom theories to "real world" practices, as well as the role formal education has in lifelong learning. Teaching learners "how to think" as opposed to "what to think" is fundamental to experiential approaches (Dewey, 1990; Kolb, 1984).

Although not all experiential opportunities are equal, those that are well designed have the potential to maximize learners' critical thinking and analytical abilities, communication skills, and interpersonal skills (Eyler, 2009; Roofe, 2012). These cognitive and relational skills coincide with learning outcomes in higher education and with employer demands (Hart Research Associates, 2013; Kuh, 2008; National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2011; U. S. Department of Labor, 2000). Examining the impact of internships and study abroad experiences on transferable skills has additional significance because each one is recognized as a high-impact educational practice (Kuh, 2008). Such practices have been shown to increase student engagement and success.

Internships and Employment

Internships are a method of on-the-job training for professional careers; they may be paid or unpaid and are almost always temporary. …

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