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Access & Accessibility - Experiential Learning Hub

Access & Accessibility

Recognizing the benefits of learning through experience, attention to students’ experiences of learning outside the traditional classroom is increasing.

Similarly, at the provincial level, in Ontario the Premier’s Expert Panel on the Highly Skilled Workforce recommended that “every student has at least one experiential learning opportunity by the time they graduate from post-secondary education” (2016, Pg. 27).

In advancing experiential learning opportunities across higher education, considerations of access and accessibility must be an important priority (BHER, 2016; Expert Panel on Youth Employment, 2016).

A number of barriers can keep students from engaging in learning outside the traditional setting. Recognizing and understanding these barriers is the first step to supporting inclusive access for all students.


  • Student groups with low participation rates in experiential education.
  • Barriers to students’ engagement in learning outside the classroom.
  • Strategies for enhancing participation.
  • Future questions to be considered in supporting students’ access to learning through experience.

Nationally, the business/higher education roundtable proposed that “100% of canadian postsecondary students benefit from some form of work-integrated learning prior to graduation

(BHER, 2016, PG. 9)

Barriers for Underrepresented Students

Participation rates in experiential learning are currently unevenly distributed, with notable under-representation of international students, first generation students, Indigenous students, students who self-identity as a member of a minority group, students with a disability, as well as students with a lower grade point average (GPA).

Research on the specific barriers and facilitators experienced by the various underrepresented populations is required and will be critical to supporting equitable access to experiential learning. Some of the population-specific barriers reported to-date are noted below:

Experiences lacking flexibility and not underpinned by principles of inclusivity exacerbate disadvantage. Accordingly, the necessity to consider the needs of marginalized students has been identified as a key challenge in advancing experiential learning for all students (Dunn et al., 2016; Peach et al., 2015).

More research is required to advance our understanding of the specific barriers faced by specific student groups along with the identification of empirically-informed strategies for enhancing participation.

General Barriers & Facilitators to Participation

There are a number of barriers that students may face when considering experiential learning opportunities. Christine Arsenault, in the video below, describes the University of Toronto Scarborough Management Co-op’s Office approach to addressing some of these barriers for their students.

Christine Arsenault, Managing Director, Management Co-op, University of Toronto Scarborough

In 2018, the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario published a report on barriers to work-integrated learning opportunities, identifying student awareness and perceptions, preparedness, financial challenges, time commitment challenges, and equity and access challenges as common barriers faced by students influencing their participation in learning outside the classroom. The identified barriers and mitigating strategies used by post-secondary institutions are presented below (R. A. Malatest & Associates Ltd., 2018).

Future Considerations for Supporting Student Access

Underrepresented students

  • Who is and who is not participating?
  • What unique barriers and facilitators may exist for marginalized students (e.g., racialized, gendered, LGBTQ2+)?

Unconscious bias in the student selection process

  • How many unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups influence students access and experience?

Availability of positions

  • Existence (or non-existence) of experiences, and limited positions for students in programs/fields, such as the Humanities.

(R. A. Malatest & Associates Ltd., 2018)


  • Student participation rates in experiential learning are currently unevenly distributed.
  • Barriers to students’ engagement in learning outside the classroom include student awareness and preparedness, preparation, and challenges with finances, time and accessibility.
  • Facilitation strategies include one-on-one advising, preparatory sessions, graduates sharing their experiences, and the provision of flexible and diverse types of experience.
  • Future considerations for supporting student access include consideration of the unique barriers faced by marginalized students, unconscious bias and the availability of positions.

References and Acknowledgements


Business/Higher Education Roundtable (BHER) (2016). Taking the Pulse of Work-integrated Learning in Canada. Retrieved from

Cooper, L., Orrell, J., & Bowden, M. (2010). Work Integrated Learning – A guide to effective practice (1st ed.). Routledge; Taylor & Francis e-Library.

Dunn, L., A., Schier, M. A., Hiller, J. E., Harding, I. A.  (2016). Eligibility requirements for work-integrated learning programs: Exploring the implications of using grade point averages for student participation. Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 17(3), 295-308.

Expert Panel on Youth Employment (2016). Understanding the Realities: Youth Employment in Canada. Retrieved from

Gair, S., Miles, D., Savage, D., & Zuchowski, I. (2015). Racism Unmasked: The Experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students in Social Work Field Placements. Australian Social Work, 68(1), 32–48.

Jackson, D., Rowbottom, D., Ferns, S., & McLaren, D. (2017). Employer understanding of Work-Integrated Learning and the challenges of engaging in work placement opportunities. Studies in Continuing Education, 39(1), 35–51.

Peach, D., Moore, D., Campbell, M., Winchester-Seeto, T., Ferns, S., Mackaway, J., & Groundwater, L.

A. Malatest & Associates Ltd. (2018). Barriers to Work-integrated Learning Opportunities. Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario. Retrieved from

Severance, T. A., & Starr, P. J. (2011). Beyond the classroom: internships and students with special needs. Teaching Sociology, 39(2), 200-207.

Tran, L. T., & Soejatminah, S. (2017). Integration of Work Experience and Learning for International Students: From Harmony to Inequality. Journal of Studies in International Education, 21(3), 261–277.

Wall, T., Tran, L. T., & Soejatminah, S. (2017). Inequalities and Agencies in Workplace Learning Experiences: International Student Perspectives. Vocations and Learning, 10(2), 141–156.


These modules are grounded in A Practical Guide for Work Integrated Learning with funding from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO).


Dr. Ashley Stirling
University of Toronto

Powerpoint Version

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). Access and Accessibility. Presented at the Experiential Learning Hub. Retrieved from