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Experiential learning in the social sector

This report explores the perspectives of those who have participated in experiential learning (EL) – also known as work-integrated learning –  such as placements, internships or other work in the social sector.

The authors examine the experiences of managers in social service and non-profit organizations, comparing the viewpoint of students in social sciences, humanities through a lens of reciprocity, considering whether EL emerges as a win-win situation with equal benefits for both sides and assessing how the current models benefit campus-community collaborations. The authors suggest that reassessing current models might improve the ability of universities to help address needs in the social sector around capacity for innovation. 

A group of people sitting around a table with a person in a white t-shirt presenting and pointing to a series of pink, yellow and orange sticky notes on a wall.

Key findings

The main barrier in facilitating a mutually beneficial arrangement for social sector employers and students is the challenge of having to tailor each EL project to the individual student’s needs, interest and skills.

A disconnect exists in universities between EL and community engagement programming that makes for missed opportunities. Reciprocity in EL partnerships should be designed intentionally as part of universities’ social impact mission to create better value for both sides.  

Universities should prioritize EL strategies that deliberately contribute to increased capacity for community partners while simultaneously meeting the needs and interests of students seeking broad experiences and access. 

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