Breaking the Fourth Wall in Online Degrees: Experiential Learning for Undergraduates

Concurrent Session 7
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

As educators, few amongst us would refute the power of experiential learning. With respect to fully online undergraduate education, however, experiential learning is often ignored. We may even justify its absence: Perhaps it’s a belief that online students are degree completers merely a “piece of paper” away from a promotion at work. Or that online students, frequently working and with family obligation, do not have the time available for these experiences. But, is ignoring these practices the best to serve the online adult learner? This presentation will highlight opportunities for institutions to embed experiential learning in online undergraduate programs.


Joshua Steele is the Senior Director of University of Arizona Online, partnering with centralized student services to ensure that students who attend 100% online have the necessary resources and guidance to be successful.

Extended Abstract

By no means is “experiential education” a new topic. American higher education has long recognized the power of applied or experiential learning. At our institutions, we can typically find several offices devoted to helping students apply meaning to their learning, whether it be through study abroad, internships, co-curricular activities, etc. Very few of us would refute the power of experiential learning. However, with fully online education, and fully online undergraduate education in particular, these practices are often ignored. They may even be ignored for reasons that are easy to justify: perhaps it is a belief that the student is a degree completer who is simply missing the bachelors credential to move into the next stage of their career. Or perhaps it’s the knowledge that online students tend to have family and work obligations that make multiple points of engagement challenging. Or maybe it is the logistical challenges on our end, including lack of resources, that prevent the creation or expansion at scale necessary for widespread opportunities. However, in limiting experiential opportunities available online students, educators limit the learning possibilities that many online students could enjoy—and from which they indubitably would benefit.

This presentation will delve into varying literature and data to discuss the challenges and opportunities present with an experiential learning infrastructure for online students, utilizing various examples to reflect how we can break down the “fourth wall” in the online classroom to provide ample opportunities to support our online populations in the learning experiences that drive outcome retention and future success.