Experiential Learning

Remember when you learned to ride a bike?

You could’ve read about riding a bike, or maybe watched someone else ride their bike, but you probably learned by trying it yourself. You likely got better by falling, getting up, and continuing to practice.

Experiential learning relies on similar principles, except it’s not so much about bikes. Experiential learning theory defines learning as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (Kolb 1984, p. 41). Experiential learning occurs in a variety of ways with the most well-known opportunities being internships (long-term) and externships (short-term, anywhere from 1 to 5 days).


The Student Success Centre’s experiential learning programs allow you to practice applying your growing classroom and lecture hall body of knowledge in the workplace. Getting this practical experience is valuable because it helps you to make informed decisions on your field of continuing education and possible career trajectories.

The Student Success Centre offers two unique externship programs: 1) Job Shadow Week, which runs in the first week of November and, 2) Career Field Experience, which runs during Reading Week in February.

Top 3 reasons to participate in an Externship:

  1. Short term – Since they are usually between 1-5 days, externships can give you a better understanding of your career interests in a short period of time.
  2. Practical Experience – Students can bridge the gap between classroom material and the information used in the workplace. Students can engage in informational interviews to learn more about the occupation and their next steps in university to get the job they want!
  3. Network with professionals in your career field of interest! Externship opportunities enable you to connect with employers and potentially establish a career mentoring relationship.

Here’s a student testimonial:

“[By participating in Career Field Experience] I was able to take the knowledge I gained from my program (Studio Art) and use it at my placement… Now, instead of volunteering my time in putting events together, I am paid for my hard work!”
Alicia Giansante, BA, Career Field Experience ’14

The application period for the 2014 Job Shadow Week program is now open! This year, the program will run during the week of November 3rd-7th, and students can apply to multiple placements on OSCARplus by submitting a résumé and cover letter.

Here are the specific instructions:

  1. Login to OSCARplus
  2. Click on “Placements” > “Student Success Centre Externships”  > “Placement Postings”
  3. Click “Search Placement Postings” and choose “Job Shadow” for Position Type
  4. Click “Search Job Postings”
  5. Apply to your placement(s) of choice!

If you have any questions, please email mentoring@mcmaster.ca


Kolb, David A.. Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1984. Print.