The oxford advanced learners dictionary defines experiential as involving or based on experience and observation. Experiential learning can simply be defined as “learning from experience” or “learning by doing”. This does not imply just performing an activity or process multiple times blindly memorizing steps, but a deliberate effort by both the learner and the teacher to identify the reasons for the activity or process and reconcile this with principles taught in purely academic environments. David A. Kolb gave a four-stage cyclical theory of learning exploiting a holistic perspective that combines experience, perception, cognition and behavior.

The traditional method of education which focuses more on completing a syllabus and writing exams is grossly inadequate in preparing students for the challenges and tasks that await them in the field or industry. Majority of employers and recruiting agencies are looking for traits and skills that graduates of our educational system may lack. Such traits and skills are practical hands-on, problem solving skills, repair and maintenance skills stemming from knowing and seeing how it works aside theory and principle of operations, teamwork, collaboration, analysis, flexibility and adaptability. The current practice of limiting learning to what is taught in the classroom is doing a disservice to both the students and the industries that will eventually require their services as part of their labor force.

Improving the quality of the products and graduates of our educational system implies integration of enhanced practice and application of learned principles to real world situations into the curricula. To do this, stakeholders such as the educational bodies, regulatory & supervisory agencies and industries have vital roles to play; there must be strong synergy and partnership between academia and the industries especially in the science, engineering and technological sector to reap benefits of a viable educational system.

In some countries, these sorts of synergy already exist or are work in progress with room for improvement. Stakeholders especially the educational and industrial sectors will do well to emulate, promote and enhance such synergies as listed below:

  • Communication and relationship between industry and academia to identify and satisfy intersecting needs. This sort of partnership exists between Siemens and the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom and has resulted in the introduction of an MSc Energy Renewables and Power programme tailored towards the needs of the company.
  • Promoting entrepreneurship through competitions and events supported by companies and business partners. This introduces students to self-employment opportunities with development of requisite skills.
  • Mentorship programmes focused on applying academic work to industry. The partnership between IBM and San Jose State University in the United States is a typical example of mentorship programme by employees of IBM on the use of technology. Law firm HBJ Gateley Wareing and Birmingham City University also have a mentoring partnership in place.
  • Corporate bodies can also exploit synergetic benefit from partnership with academic bodies for resources and knowledge pool available in the academic environment in training, staff upgrading, irregular events involving more staff resource etc. An example of this is the arrangement between Halifax Community Bank and Middlesex University where identified staff training needs and requirements are facilitated by the university staff resource.

Management of universities should do more in encouraging experiential learning with more excursions and tours to industries and manufacturing firms with enhanced internships in relevant factories. More incubation centers and industrial parks should be a priority for university funds as spin-offs from research and innovations including enhanced laboratory facilities for simulations, experiments, research and development etc. On the part of the industry, they should liaise more with universities and research centers on industrial parks, intakes of more students as interns and researchers with reputable universities on research areas that would help optimize, improve and innovate their products and services.

These and more actions will help bridge and complement gaps across industry and academia; a paradigm shift delivered by experiential learning and research in which the researcher is immersed and involved in the action and experience of what is being researched. PhD students will do well in research studies and proposals in which they exploit opportunities provided by the wholeness of experience through internships, shared industry challenges, optimization of solutions of humanity’s environmental and societal challenges as research questions and/or problems.