Purposeful Experience


Facilitating purposeful student experience begins with determining the learning emphasis, including the intended learning outcomes, methods for learning assessment and the creation of learning plans (Stirling et al., 2016).

“The learning emphasis is used to inform the design of the experience, including the student tasks/activities and measures of student success. It provides a foundation to ensure that all stakeholders (e.g., student, course instructor, community/workplace supervisor) are working towards the same learning goals. It is also critical for guiding the student experience and grounding the reflection, integration of theory and practice, and application of new insights.” (Stirling et al., 2016).

This resource includes information on:

  • Developing learning outcomes for a student experience.
  • Methods for assessing students’ learning.
  • Creating a learning plan.

There are many benefits to learning through experience. Please join Roger Francis, Professor Eileen McKee, and Professor Ahmed Allahwala in the videos below as they explore different experiential learning opportunities on campus and their corresponding learning outcomes.

Roger Francis, Executive Director, Engineering Career Centre, Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering

Professor Eileen McKee, Assistant Dean, Field Education, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work

Professor Ahmed Allahwala, Associate Professor, Teaching Stream, Department of Human Geography, University of Toronto Scarborough

Developing Learning Outcomes

Developing learning outcomes for experiential education is similar to developing learning outcomes for any other educational experience, whether inside or outside the traditional classroom setting.

As such, approaches and models used to develop learning outcomes in the classroom also apply to the development of experiential learning outcomes.

Learning outcomes are specific expectations of what students are supposed to value, know, or be able to do as a result of completing the experience (Ravitch, 2007).

In facilitating student experience, learning outcomes:

  • Are developed as a clear statement containing a verb (an action) and an object (usually a noun), and provide a clear purpose for the learning (Osgood & Richter, 2006).
  • Consider the audience (who?), behaviour (what?), conditions (how?), degree (how much?) (Henrich, Molenda, Russell & Smaldino, 2002).

Developing a learning outcome statement involves completing the following sentence: By the end of this experience, the students will be able to . . .

As experiential learning outcomes are generally set in partnership between the student, community/workplace supervisor and course instructor/programme director (Holly, 2014),

  • It is common for broad student learning outcomes to be set by the course instructor/programme director for the experiential learning program,
  • With the intention that the student and community/workplace supervisor will work together at the beginning of the experience to set more specific and individualized learning outcomes.

Two common models used to develop learning outcomes and complete the learning outcomes statement, include:


Assessment of Learning

Assessment of learning is critical for ensuring the educational integrity of the student experience.


“Similar to the development of learning outcomes, in assessing student’s experiential learning, common approaches used to assess student learning more broadly can be applied when assessing student’s growth and development when learning through experience” (Young and Baker, 2004).

Three Types of Learning Assessment

There are three main types of learning assessment, as illustrated in the image below:

(Ash & Clayton, 2009)

A Model for Student Assessment

Miller’s (1990) Triangle/Model of Clinical Competence is a popular conceptual model used in the assessment of student experience.

This involves assessing the student’s knowledge, competence, performance and action (see image below).

Assessment Activities

Many activities can be used to assess the outcomes achieved in students’ learning experiences, including:

  • Examinations.
  • Written assignments.
  • Oral presentations.
  • Portfolios.
  • Direct observation.
  • Capstone projects.

(Connaughton, Edgar, & Ferns, 2014)

Authentic Assessment

Ferns and colleagues (2017) described the need for authentic assessment of student experience and summarized some key differences in assessing student experience in traditional vs. authentic practice settings.

Traditional Authentic
Selecting a response Performing a task
Contrived Real-life
Recall/recognition Construction/application
Teacher-structured Student-structured
Indirect evidence Direct evidence
Convergent assessment Divergent assessment

(Ferns, Hains-Wesson, & Russell, 2017)

Creating Authentic Assessments of Student Experience: 4-Steps

  1. Identify the standards (intended learning outcomes).
  2. Develop a task the students could perform that would indicate they have met these standards.
  3. Identify the criteria for the task, also referred to as the characteristics of good performance on that task.
  4. Create a rubric which combines the identified criteria with two or more levels of performance.

(Muller, 2017)

See Bosco & Fern’s (2014) Authentic Assessment Framework to connect authenticity of assessment tools with the authenticity of the student experience.


What is a Learning Plan?

A learning plan identifies where you want to go, how you will get there and how you will know if you are successful.

A learning plan typically consists of the following items:

  1. Learning outcomes,
  2. Activities that will be undertaken to achieve each learning outcome,
  3. Resources available to support the learning during the activity, and
  4. Criteria by which each learning outcome will be assessed.

A learning plan is important because it:

  • Provides direction and insight as to what students will gain from the experience and how they will gain it.
  • Identifies and measures what students are gaining through participating in the learning experience.
  • Acts as a tool to reflect back on to help articulate skills and achievements gained through the experience.

A learning plan can be developed as an activity or program learning plan to be used by program leads.

It can also be developed as a personal learning plan to be used by students to plan their individualized learning experiences.

Using Your Program Learning Plan

In applying the learning plan to practice, some questions to consider include:

  • Who might you want to share and discuss the plan with?
  • Who is critical in helping you execute the plan?
  • How often will you revisit the plan?
  • How will you celebrate success?

(Billett, 2002)

  • Determining the learning emphasis of the student experience is critical for ensuring educational quality.
  • Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains and Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning are common models used to develop learning outcomes.
  • Assessment of learning outcomes should be authentic.
  • Learning plans provide direction and insight for all stakeholders on what students will gain from the experience and how they will gain it.


Ash, S. L., & Clayton, P. H. (2009). Generating, deepening, and documenting learning: The power of critical reflection in applied learning. Journal of Applied Learning in Higher Education, 1, 25 – 48.

Barkley, E. F. & Major, C. H. (2016). Learning assessment techniques: A handbook for college faculty. Jossey-Bass.

Billett, S. (2002). Toward a workplace pedagogy: Guidance, participation, and engagement. Adult Education Quarterly, 53(3), 27-43. DOI: 10.1177/074171302237202.

Bloom, B. S. (ed.). (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: the classification of educational goals. Handbook Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay.

Connaughton, J., Edgar, S., & Ferns, S. (2014). Assessing WIL. In S. Ferns (ed.), Work integrated learning in the curriculum. Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australia guide (pp. 27-31). Australia Collaboration Education Network Ltd.

Ferns, S., Hains-Wesson, R., & Russell, L (2017). Assessing employability outcomes through WIL: Challenges and opportunities. Retrieved from: http://acen.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Assessing-employability-outcomes-through-WIL_FINAL_2April2017.pdf.

Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: an integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Heinrich, R., Molenda, M., Russell, J., & Smaldino, S. (2002). Instructional media and technologies for learning (7th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Holly, M. E. (2014). Experiential learning and student engagement: meaningful learner outcomes as articulated by Drexel University Sacramento Ed.D. graduates. Doctoral dissertation from Drexel University.

Miller, E. E. (1990, September). The assessment of clinical skills/competence/ performance. Academic Medicine, 65, 63-67.

Muller, J. (2017). Authentic Assessment Toolbox. Retrieved from: http://jfmueller.faculty.noctrl.edu/toolbox/index.htm.

Osgood, M., & Richter, D. M. (2006). Designing learning that lasts: an evidence based approach to curriculum development. Albuquerque, NM: Teacher & Education Development, University of New Mexico, School of Medicine. Retrieved from http:// citeseerx.ist.psu.edu.

Ravitch, D. (2007). EdSpeak: a glossary of education terms, phrases, buzzwords, and jargon. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.

Stirling, A., Kerr, G., Banwell, J., MacPherson, E., & Heron, A. (2016). A Practical Guide for Work-integrated Learning. Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario. Retrieved from http://www.heqco.ca/SiteCollectionDocuments/HEQCO_WIL_Guide_ENG_ACC.pdf.

Young, D. S., & Baker, R. E. (2004). Linking classroom theory to professional practice: the internship as a practical learning experience worthy of academic credit. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 75(1), 22-24.


These modules are grounded in A Practical Guide for Work-integrated Learning, funded by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO).

Contact the author:

Dr. Ashley Stirling
University of Toronto
Email: ashley.stirling@utoronto.ca


A Powerpoint version of the content provided in each resource section is available for individuals wishing to use this material for local professional development programming.

The resource is licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License” using the following citation:

Stirling, A. (2019). Purposeful Experience. Presented at the Experiential Learning Hub. Retrieved from https://experientiallearning.utoronto.ca/faculty-staff/learn/course-and-program-resources/purposeful-experience/