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Linking Theory To Practice: Experiential Learning In An Employee Wellness Practicum

Wednesday, January 30, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Stephanie Marquart
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Sallie M. Scovill, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, USA

Matthew D. Waite, Graduate Assistant, University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, USA

Engaging students in a process that connects real world experience with their course of study is well documented in the literature as a pedagogy linked with experiential learning. This paper is a case study of an experiential learning (EL) process in a practicum course in Employee Wellness. This case study describes how this unique program follows an EL model where students work together to manage an on-campus wellness programs for employees at the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point.

Experiential learning (EL) has been used extensively in higher education to provide students with hands-on learning experiences and to develop a deeper understanding of concepts associated with their major program of study (Nicholas, Baker-Sennett, McClanahan, & Harwood, 2011; Govekar & Rishi, 2007). This type of learning theory can be traced to Dewey (1927) who developed the notion of "Progressivism” where the student is the problem solver, and the teacher’s role is more of a facilitator. The teacher creates opportunities for students to develop their problem-solving abilities by providing experiences that relate knowledge to immediate social needs. Hoover and Whitehead (1975) expand this definition stating, "Experiential learning exists when a personally responsible participant cognitively, affectively, and behaviorally processes knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes in a learning situation characterized by a high level of active involvement” (as cited in Gentry, 1990, p. 10). Experiential learning involves many formats including internships, practicum, field experiences, cooperative education, apprenticeships, or service learning (Kolb, 1984; Cantor, 1995; Linn, 1999; Lee, McGuiggan, & Holland, 2010).

All experiential education opportunities have similar properties. First, the learning provides benefits to both the learner/provider and recipients (Peters, 2011). The process should help students learn and develop skills through active participation in a real world context where there is a practical application of academic content and theory (Greenberg, 1997; Peters, 2011; Prentice & Garcia, 2000; Cantor, 1995). The experience should encourage critical-thinking and problem-solving skills by building on the curriculum and classroom activities (Prentice et al., 2000). In addition, Bringle (2003, as cited in Ball, 2008) emphasizes that active learning is a crucial part of the process, as is collaboration, feedback, practical applications, reflection, and cognition. All experiential education activities should be structured to meet a real need in the community or population served, to develop civic responsibility, or to provide career exploration (Mumford, Inumgu, & Johnson, 2008).

The key to an experiential learning process is the active involvement of the students. The learner must be involved in shaping the process they will follow, guided not only by the concepts of the course, but also by their own personal knowledge and experiences (Bangs, 2011). To have a successful experiential leaning process, it is crucial to pay attention to the four phases of experiential learning - Design, Conduct, Evaluation, and Feedback (Wolfe and Byrne, 1975, as discussed in Gentry, 1990, p. 1). This interactive process is illustrated in Figure 1. This process-oriented model is similar to other experiential or service learning models described in the literature (Kolb, 1984; Mumford et al., 2008; Cantor, 1995; Gentry, 1990).

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