Experiential learning in Canada’s high schools

Grade 11 and 12 students explored new ideas and furthered their entrepreneurial skills as they developed business ventures, as part of The Learning Partnership’s Dragons’ Nest program.

By: Todd Julie

I went to high school in the 1990s and I don’t remember hearing about experiential learning or co-op options back then. I made important decisions about my first career based on a little more than hopes and dreams.

However, going back to university as a mature student, I took advantage of every learning support and opportunity I could get my hands on, including experiential learning. I did three co-op terms, entered national case competitions and written contests. I was a bit of a keener. It is from these later experiences that I can advocate for the profoundly positive impact experiential or on-the-job learning can have on a young person’s career.

Today, the benefits of these types of experiences for high school students are more and more widely understood. The federal government has set aside $73 million for experiential learning partnerships. Across this country, the diversity of opportunities that are increasingly available to students is something to behold. The Students on Ice Foundation, for example, provides experiential learning to students on “arts and culture, history and politics, science and sustainable development, … and many other polar topics.” Students attend workshops and practice essential skills such as “processes of discovery, fact-finding, analysis, synthesis, reflection and idea development,” all while aboard a ship travelling through northern Canada, from coast to coast to coast.

Experiential learning encompasses more than just co-op. According to the report of The Premiere’s Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel, Building The Workforce of Tomorrow, Ontario, it also refers to volunteering, apprenticeship, industry recognized class projects, and mentorship. Experiential learning allows students to test drive jobs and careers they might be considering. At the same time it teaches them valuable on-the-job skills that give them a leg up with potential employers.

At Ryerson University, Toronto, Sandbox by DMZ “encourages students to pursue their individual passions, develop employable skills, explore ideas and tackle serious issues affecting society. Among the programs offered, Basecamp is an incubation program for high school students, focused on ideation, creative problem-solving and designing solutions. Young entrepreneurs spend eight weeks in an intensive bootcamp where they learn to develop, market and accelerate their own business ideas. The Learning Partnership offers its own entrepreneurial based programs, such as Entrepreneurial Adventure, a K-12 program, and Dragons’ Nest, which targets secondary school students and gives them added access to business mentors.

Making experiential learning widely available to high school students is an essential way of connecting their thinking about the world after graduation with unknown new potentials and possibilities. I wish someone had told me earlier!

Todd Julie, MPA, is a Policy and Research Analyst, Innovation in Education with The Learning Partnership. His current work in both research and program evaluation focuses on the impact of coding and STEM education in grades K-12. Prior to this position, Todd served as a researcher on two major digital Social Science and Humanities Research Council partnership grants: The Creating Digital Opportunities partnership and The Digital Governance Partnership.

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