Experiential Learning Definition and Criteria


In 2016-2017, experiential learning (EL) was defined by the University of Guelph’s Experiential Learning Task Force as:

A pedagogical practice whereby students gain new knowledge, skills and abilities due to the intentional application of classroom learning in a workplace or simulated workplace setting. Experiential learning opportunities are grounded in an intentional learning cycle and clearly defined learning outcomes. They engage students actively in creating knowledge and critically reflecting on their experiences, allowing them to understand how to transfer their knowledge and skills to future endeavours.


The Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) has identified six criteria that must be met in order for an activity to be considered EL[1]:

  1. The student must be in a workplace or a simulated workplace[2].
  2. The student must be exposed to authentic demands[3] that improve their employability, interpersonal skills, and transition to the workforce.
  3. The experience should be structured with purposeful and meaningful activities.
  4. The student must apply university or college program knowledge and/or essential employability skills[4].
  5. The experience should include student self-assessment and evaluation of the students’ performance and learning outcomes by the employer and/or university/college.
  6. The experience should count towards course credit or credential completion, or be formally recognized by the college or university as meeting the five criteria above.

[1] Alongside the above-mentioned criteria, the (EL) environment must be accessible and in compliance with all laws and regulations.

[2] “Simulated workplace” is defined as a learning environment that models or emulates a professional workplace in function, equipment or operation, wherein a student engages in activities reflecting real work experience.

[3] “Authentic demands” are defined as work contexts, processes or practical experiences, with real-world application.

[4] The Skill Development Through Experiential Learning working group is currently aligning University of Guelph Learning Outcomes with essential employability skills, to which all experiential learning activities will be mapped.

Experience Profiles

  • Sharon recently finished her degree in European Studies. She was engaged in applied research, community engaged learning courses and did a practicum in Europe. Additionally, Sharon also worked on campus as a student staff.