Experiential learning is “based on students being directly involved in a learning experience rather than being recipients of ready-made content in the form of lectures” (ContactPoint, 2014a). Experiential learning is:
- Geared toward process, rather than outcomes
In this way, knowledge is created as the learner moves through the experience.
Through your educational program, you may be able to participate in a variety of different learning experiences in tourism and hospitality. Students who participate in a learning experience outside of the classroom are more likely to enter the field with both academic and practical workplace skills and knowledge, and have more opportunities for career advancement.
Work Experience Examples
Let’s have a look at some of the common types of work learning experiences:
- Co-op education
- Service learning
Each of these is defined below.
Co-operative, or co-op education refers to “a structured program that integrates work experience in a student’s field along with academic studies by alternating in-class learning with periods of actual work” (ContactPoint, 2014b, para. 1). The term reflects the co-operative relationship between students, schools, and employers.
An internship is a temporary on-the-job experience that is “typically offered to students or inexperienced workers” (ContactPoint, 2014c, para. 1). It is generally project-oriented, and supervised.
The intern should have specific learning goals against which he or she can apply experience about a particular industry or field of work. The term may be paid or unpaid, and may lead to permanent career opportunities with the organization (ContactPoint, 2014b).
A practicum is “applied learning that provides students with practical experience and interaction with professionals from industry and the community outside of school” (ConnectEd, 2011, p.3). The goal is to support career readiness and help enhance:
- Higher-order thinking
- Academic skills
- Technical skills
- Applied workplace skills
The experience may be paid or unpaid.
Service learning is defined as a course-based, credit-bearing educational experience in which students:
- Participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs
- Reflect on the service activity to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility (Bringle & Hatcher, 1995)
Volunteering involves performing a service without pay in order to obtain work experience, learn new skills, meet people, contribute to community, and contribute to a cause that’s important to the volunteer (for example, helping animals, supporting elderly people, working for an environmental cause) (Pickerell, 2014).
Benefits of Work Experience Programs
Students who have completed a formal work experience component benefit from a supportive partnership between the educational institution, the employer, and themselves. This partnership encourages community stakeholder investment, student learning opportunities, professional networks, as well as opportunities for employers to participate as co-educators.
Some institutions may work with an experiential education coordinator to ensure a particular position meets the school’s criteria. Depending on your program, remuneration for work can be by the hour, by salary, by a stipend, as in-kind contributions (experiences or services from the business), or as a volunteer assignment. The educational institution may monitor your placement and ask you to complete an assignment where you reflect on the work experience. Some programs may have an evaluation component and a supervisor who supports the student’s learning. Students are also evaluated by the employer, and they will have a supervisor whom they report to directly.
Most often, for students to participate in a work experience program, they are required to maintain a certain grade point average (GPA) set by the school. Often students are also asked to establish learning goals prior to starting their work experience.
If your program doesn’t offer a formal work experience program such as a co-op, internship, or practicum, you can still gain valuable hands-on learning through part-time work and volunteer opportunities. Because tourism is the number-one employer of youth in BC, you can find a part-time job to develop your skills and gain an entry-level opportunity to join the industry.
Whatever experience you engage in, be it formal, or informal, it’s important to:
- Explore your employer’s organizational culture and social norms
- Do your best on the job
- Gain conflict management and resolution skills
These three keys come directly from BC tourism and hospitality employers (LinkBC, 2014), and are explored in the next section.