Experiential learning is the process of learning through experience, and is more specifically defined as learning through reflection on doing. David Kolb (Weatheread School of Management, 1984) states that “experiential learning is distinct from rote or didactic learning, in which the learner plays a comparatively passive role. In order to gain genuine knowledge from an experience, the learner must have four abilities:
- The learner must be willing to be actively involved in the experience;
- The learner must be able to reflect on the experience;
- The learner must possess and use analytical skills to conceptualize the experience; and
- The learner must possess decision making and problem solving skills in order to use the new ideas gained from the experience.”
Thus, experiential learning requires self-initiative, an intention to learn and an active phase of learning.
The SBI student consulting projects provide a great canvas for experiential learning for the following reasons:
- It gets the students “out of the building” (per Lean Startup). Many students don’t understand what a real work environment looks or feels like. This can almost shocking to some students.
- It makes them uncomfortable. While the classroom is predictable and safe, the client’s location is foreign and unpredictable for the student. The students must put theory into practice; this makes them learn all the challenges associated with applying the theory. Doing is where the action is.
- The incentives and consequences are high; this includes grades, financial awards, client expectations, and peer pressure. The students get a grade for the project; this is the norm. Beyond that the students also may receive recognition for their efforts and possible cash awards in the form of scholarships (at CSUF). They also will receive direct feedback from the client about the quality and accuracy of the project. Our end of project student evaluation provides peer to peer feedback all students involved.
- It is fun. Starting with the first client visit, students generally discover that being a student consultant is very enjoyable. This includes the team dynamics but also the relationship with the client.
- It is real. Unlike a case study or class discussion which is only a hypothetical discourse, the SBI project team’s research and recommendations can make a tangible and positive impact at the client.
- It challenges the student team to present recommendations in a F2F presentation to the client. This includes answering questions on the fly and defending their recommendations.
- Additionally, the students must summarize their findings in a comprehensive written report; this aspect of the project has become increasingly challenging because of a continued erosion of student writing skills (at least from my perspective at CSUF after 13 years).
- The project creates great additions to the student resumes and usually includes a client reference.
- On numerous occasions students have been hired by the clients as a direct result of the project. One client at CSUF has hired 9 of our students.
- The university gets bragging rights for the successful projects. This makes for great PR and can create donations by the former clients.
John Bradley Jackson