Here’s how to incorporate experiential learning into your online programs


Here’s how to incorporate experiential learning into your online programs

Are you hesitant to bring certain programs online because of the challenges in providing lab hours, clinical hours, or field work opportunities for online students? If so, you’re not alone. Growing student interest in online programs, further accelerated by the pandemic, has challenged administrators to offer experiential learning opportunities online or at off-campus locations accessible to online students. Here are some of our researchers’ suggestions for creating the proper infrastructure to deliver lab, clinical, or field work hours remotely.



of surveyed graduate and adult learners said they are more likely to consider online options because of experiences during the pandemic.

1. Pair online students with a dedicated placement advisor

When online programs require clinical hours, pair students with a dedicated placement advisor to help them find a clinical location in their area. For example, Georgetown University's School of Nursing and Health Studies initiates an “ongoing partnership between the student and placement specialist beginning at the point of enrollment.” The two then work together to identify potential placement opportunities in student’s local community. Similarly, the Office of Field Education at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Social Work notes that students enrolled in online programs will complete field placements in their local communities. A team consisting of a field instructor, field liaison, and student success advisor work together to ensure this expectation is met.

2. Use digital simulations to confer lab skills

Where possible, use digital simulations to develop skills traditionally honed in a lab setting (check out our Employer Demand Profiles to see which skills are most sought after in your state or region). Pepperdine University reports that “for lab experiences that primarily address learning outcomes related to developing students' skill implementing experimental protocols, digital simulations may allow [institutions] to meet or at least approach those objectives.” HHMI BioInteractive is an example of one such digital simulation that gives life sciences students the opportunity to complete virtual labs. Students at the University of New Haven used another virtual lab simulation, Labster, was used by Dr. to complete their coursework remotely. Dr. Jonelle Orridge, Associate Dean at Broward College, notes:

These resources have helped many faculty members introduce active learning activities to support their lectures in the classroom.

Dr. Jonelle Orridge

Associate Dean at Broward College

3. Maintain employer partnerships to secure placements for online students

Employer partnerships demonstrate program value, rigor, and appeal to students. Building strong partnerships with employers for clinical or field placements helps placement advisors and students in the hunt for local field placements. Partner with employers in the communities where students are most concentrated and consider signing multi-year memoranda of understanding so your institution can return to the same organizations for placements. Keep an open line of communication between employers which have offered students field work or clinical placements in the past.

Screenshot Employer Partnership Toolkit
Ready to secure employer partnerships?

To aid in the implementation of critical disciplines to grow higher ed employer partnerships, use the following tools to navigate the most complex portions of the partnership process.

And of course, advertise employer partnerships and potential placements in program marketing and recruitment materials. For example, Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois Chicago advertises that they maintain relationships with more than 300 agencies, hospitals, schools and other organizations. While students’ differing locations may pose a challenge, maintaining strong relationships with past placement sites lessens the burden of continuously finding new placements.

Develop your online program for growth.

Join former graduate school dean, Dr. Will Lamb, for a discussion of what it takes to develop high-quality online programs—and grow online enrollments for years to come.

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