As college graduates are increasingly expected to enter the workforce with job-ready skills, experiential learning is becoming increasingly more prevalent with competitive higher education programs. This active, engaged, hands-on form of learning is an educational model that allows students to apply what they’re learning in the classroom to real world challenges that don’t necessarily have only one correct answer.
CapSource is on a mission to increase access to and quality of experiential learning available at colleges and universities around the globe. The CapSource model is to help educators integrate real-world business leaders and their company challenges directly into the education process through research-oriented, project-based experiential learning engagements.
After successfully implementing over 100 engagements at 30 institutions with the help of 120 companies over the past two years, the CapSource team decided to officially define our experiential learning model, which enables students to hone essential universal skills like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity in order to develop reference worthy work experience in school before graduating.
Through CapSource engagements, students practice using key universal skills while developing real outcomes for real stakeholders who provide real feedback on student projects. As a result, students gain reference-worthy experiences with real companies, in real business functions, on real challenges that have real stakes.
Below we’ve taken the time to break down each of these components of the CapSource experiential learning model in order to help our students, educators, and host company partners better understand the purpose of using real-world projects in the classroom.
Using & Honing Universal Skills
Experiential learning fosters the “4 C’s” of universal skills as defined by the National Education Association: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. These four crucial skills are cornerstones of success in both education and workforce because it leads to efficiency and productivity for organizations. Without these skills, it’s inherently challenging to operate in a connected, collaborative company structure and team environment, which is particularly why it’s so crucial that students graduate with an understanding of how each of these skills governs their interactions with colleagues, customers, superiors, and subordinates.
Communication encompasses a variety of listening, verbal, and written skills used to articulate thoughts and ideas. Communication skills can use different types of media, from email to video, and also draw upon cross-cultural competencies. With most jobs in the U.S. economy focusing on service-oriented industries, communication is highly important for career success. Students who work on CapSource projects must communicate with their groups, their faculty members, and representatives from their host company in order to succeed. The better the communication throughout the engagement, the better outcomes for all parties.
Collaboration, or the ability to work well with others, is an essential skill in the 21st century workforce, especially with increased globalization. Collaboration brings together multiple perspectives and skills, ultimately leading to stronger project results. Collaboration and communication are strongly linked in CapSource projects, since collaborating with project groups requires clear communication and teamwork in order to deliver successful outcomes.
Critical thinking refers to the ability to use different types of reasoning, such as deductive and inductive, to make decisions and solve problems that don’t only have one clear answer. Critical thinking is a priority in all job functions, across all industries and typically becomes a main differentiator for career success. CapSource projects involve understanding and solving business challenges, which requires students to first comprehend different business models before then being able to propose reasonable solutions for real business challenges. Critical thinking plays a key role in the ability to break down large, complex, multifaceted challenges into bite-sized nuggets that can be addressed and resolved piece-by-piece.
Contrary to popular belief, creativity isn’t about how well a student does in art class. Rather, creativity is about innovating and developing new ideas, and then bringing those ideas into fruition. CapSource students must harness creativity at every stage of the project, from brainstorming ideas to iterating solutions. Creativity relies heavily on the other three C’s because turning ideas into action requires communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. As students come up with new ideas and cooperate as they try and reason through challenges, they’re able to flex their creative muscles and better understand how thinking creatively can result in positive outcomes for their group and the external stakeholders they’re working with.
Developing Real Outcomes
To help students hone these universal skills, CapSource works with educators, students, and host companies to create projects that matter. Students who undertake experiential learning projects through CapSource are given business challenges that are actually a pain point for their host company. The solutions that students come up are real, action-worthy outcomes, such as marketing plans, go-to-market strategies, product roadmaps, data visualization dashboards, and useful financial projections and metrics.
Working with Real Stakeholders
All projects that our students work on involve real company stakeholders as mentors, who are often accomplished business executives and entrepreneurs. These stakeholders are eager to listen to students’ perspectives on the challenges that their company is facing in order to gain a fresh perspective. With CapSource learning engagements, these stakeholders are involved throughout the project, from the initial briefing and check-ins to the final presentations.
Getting Real Feedback
Since experiential learning projects involve real companies and challenges, the feedback that students receive from faculty members, company stakeholders, and each other helps to point out professional strengths and weaknesses, all in a safe environment. With CapSource projects, feedback can be given in-person and/or processed through surveys and grading rubrics with scores for different skills. We highly recommend taking a look at our article about How to Grade Project-Based Experiential Learning Collaborations if you’re interested in delving deeper into the metrics that matter and the mechanisms that can be used to assess student performance.
Gaining Reference-Worthy Work Experience
Through CapSource engagements, educators are able to offer their students hands-on collaborations that allow them to gain real work experience from the comfort of the classroom. In fact, some students who have undertaken experiential learning projects through CapSource have become interns or full-time employees at the host company they worked with. Regardless of direct employment outcomes, students undertaking CapSource projects engage with key stakeholders who are expecting real outcomes, resulting in lifelong lessons and memorable, reference-worthy experiences.
Each CapSource project involves real stakeholders from real companies. Part of our responsibility while helping schools with their experiential learning programs is to convince companies that they should be involved in the education process. CapSource maintains an active directory of host companies eager to collaborate through experiential learning engagements. These companies vary greatly in size, location, and industry and the projects that students complete can have a significant impact on company growth and direction.
CapSource also breaks down each project into 19 relevant business functions in order to easily tie real business challenges to academic disciplines. Through CapSource experiential learning engagements, students are often exposed to multifaceted challenges including multiple departments within a business, which requires taking an interdisciplinary approach to solving business challenges. Some of the most common business functions are marketing, product development, growth strategy, and talent management.
CapSource’s experiential learning formats (Our Products) offer educators a plethora of customizable ways to challenge students leveraging real-world third-party host organizations. The engagements can be short one-day Site Visits, Capstone group projects, Live Business Case class projects, or individual student Co-Op Career Boosters. Previous challenges have included the development of a board member on-boarding process and materials package, the assembly of financial statements and projections, the proposal of new products with a go-to-market strategy, and a deep dive on industry and competition.
The best part of experiential learning projects is that all players have skin in the game. Unlike a case study from a textbook, the stakes in an experiential learning project are real. One of our recent clients, Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, collaborated with CapSource to undertake 41 experiential learning projects for business students during their spring interterm program. Each of the projects, ranging in topics from marketing to financial planning, had real stakes that enabled students to feel accomplished and hone skills since there was real pressure to make a real impact and solve real problems. You can hear directly from the students and host companies in this video or learn more about working with a Notre Dame team this Fall on this page.
CapSource is dedicated to making experiential learning easy. If you are a faculty member interested in bringing experiential learning to your class or program, please contact us!
If you’re a company interested in working with schools and their students through experiential learning engagements geared to benefit your business you can learn more or create a profile today!
We encourage our users, including university faculty and industry professionals, to help develop this thought leadership piece by commenting and engaging in a dialogue below. If you have any private feedback or would like to discuss any of this further, please contact us!