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Want to create flexible experiential learning opportunities for online students? Here's how.

August 20, 2021

As the online market continues to grow, enrollment leaders will need to identify ways to make their online offerings stand out. One way to set your online programs apart is through well-designed experiential learning components. Use these three tactics to create flexible experiential learning opportunities in your online programs.

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    Average annual growth in online graduate program enrollment from 2013 to 2018.

1. Offer multiple options for students to satisfy your experiential learning requirements

To accommodate adult learners’ busy lifestyles and competing priorities, offer students multiple ways to gain real-life experience in your program, including internships, practicums, and research seminars. Allowing students to select a learning experience that best caters to their interests and schedules also appeals to adult learners’ desire to customize coursework to meet their needs.

Seton Hall University’s Online MPA program provides multiple experiential learning options based on each student’s availability and prior experience. For example, Seton Hall’s internship option is specifically designed for “pre-service” students who do not have at least two years of management experience. Conversely, Seton Hall’s research seminar option is specifically for students working full time in a related role.



2. Recognize credit for work experience to supplement experiential learning

Adult learners balancing work, family, and school may find it difficult to complete an internship requirement, as their time is already stretched thin. Offering experiential learning credit or internship credit for current work experience can accommodate and appeal to busy professionals. For example, Clarkson University’s Online MBA program does not require that students who work full-time in a position relevant to their studies complete an internship.

Alternatively, consider allowing students to complete practicum requirements at their current job. George Mason University’s Online Applied Industrial and Organizational Psychology program requires two practicums, which students can complete at their place of work.

Experiential learning or internship credit for current work experience will appeal to busy professionals.


3. Collaborate with employers when developing experiential learning requirements

Working closely with employers to develop experiential learning requirements-and to inform online coursework more generally-will help enrich students’ experiences in your programs.

Investing in these employer relationships allows working professionals looking for a career change to get hands-on experience within their new field and grow their network, setting them up for early success. For example, industry-based career coaches or in-class, client-based projects give adult learners who are switching careers or have minimal work experience opportunities to apply their skills outside of the classroom. And our Professional and Adult Education research continues to show that employer partnerships not only enhance your experiential learning opportunities, but they also help demonstrate your program’s value and rigor to students.


Regardless of which experiential learning components you embed as part of your online programs, it’s important to advertise them prominently in program marketing materials. While student interest in online programs is growing, explaining that your online programs do, in fact, include these experiences can assuage concerns among students still skeptical about the value of online learning. And of course, reassure adult learners that your institution offers the support they need to complete these experiences successfully.

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