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American Higher Education in Crises book cover

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22st Annual OLC International Conference
November 16-18, 2016 | Orlando, Florida | Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin Resort

OLC Innovate 2016 - Innovations in Blended and Online Learning
April 20-22, 2016 | New Orleans, LA | Sheraton New Orleans Hotel

Competency Based Virtual Experiential Learning: Bridging the Academic- Practitioner Divide

Kevin Cojanu (Kaplan University, USA)
Additional Authors
Sean Doyle (Kaplan University, USA)
Monica Hubler (Kaplan University, USA)
Desiree DePriest, Ph.D. (Kaplan University, USA)
Session Information
October 15, 2015 - 2:30pm
Technology and Emerging Learning Environments
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Southern Hemisphere I
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 8
Virtual Session
Best in Track

The framework of this Virtual Experiential Learning model focuses on immersing students in reality-based learning to build professional competencies desirable in the career marketplace.

Extended Abstract


Our presentation will cover the challenges, development process, and the realities of building an effective Competency Based Virtual Experiential Learning program designed using. We have immersed our students in a Virtual Experiential Learning ecosystem that defies many existing experiential learning model parameters. In the context of Academe, the Competency Based Virtual Experiential Learning model immerses students in real world professional experiences that develop the intrapreneurial professional competencies required of indispensable human capital assets that 21st century employers seek. Using a unique curriculum design grounded on the foundational principles of experiential learning theory as defined by Kolb (1984), students learn to connect theory to practice using a three-dimensional professional competency assessment model to help guide them in bridging the academic-practitioner divide.


The challenge in education will always be in finding the right formula to fully immerse ?our? students in valuable reality based experiences that help them individually achieve the goals of a learning program, and to develop the highly desirable professional competencies necessary to succeed in the 21st century career marketplace. In order to develop a highly competent workforce, the use of Experiential Learning Models in the development of both academic program curriculum and business and industry training and development programs is becoming commonplace. In particular, as online learning continues to grow in popularity and employers embrace the ideals of remote productivity, the need for operating experiential learning programs in the virtual environment has emerged. An opportunity exists within online learning programs to immerse students in real world virtual work experiences to develop professional competencies of a 21st century intrapreneur through the individual evolution of knowledge, skills, abilities and behaviors. The academic-practitioner divide remains a problem for the higher education industry to solve to prepare students to become the 21st century intrapreneurial leaders employers? desire.


Throughout higher education, in both online and brick & mortar degree programs, curriculum is designed to dictate to our students how to produce content that mimics what the academic world wants; and the unfortunate reality is what businesses want, need, and have been asking of learning institutions for decades has been largely ignored. Business needs decision-makers, critical thinkers, problem solvers, individuals with high degrees of professionalism, strong communication skills, the ability to engage in teamwork, etc. Furthermore, business wants individuals that are self-starters, with confidence, that are leaders with analytical abilities, and the list goes on. The question is, how is higher education addressing this issue within the online learning environment?


We have developed a Competency Based Virtual Experiential Learning model designed to provide real-life experiences for students that will prepare them for entering the real world of work. Our approach delivers opportunities for students to work in a series of businesses that are a result of student development. These student-operated businesses provide services that will require student engagement to sell, manage, and improve the products and services offered by the organization to not-for-profit, government, and small business entities that desire assistance with operating their business. The Virtual Experiential Learning program utilizes the three-dimensional professional competency assessment model to guide students in the process of self-actualization and career planning for the purpose of attaining and maintaining life-long gainful employment as indispensible 21st century intrapreneur?s.

As educators, we create programs and learning solutions with great care and the best of intentions, hoping to impart the knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors our students need to make their way in the world. Through the Competency Based Virtual Experiential Learning program, we have seen students leave with the professional competencies that employers need, want, and ask for upon graduation of the degree plan. Students connect theory to practice as they are immersed in the real-world business setting where they face everyday business challenges, essentially practicing and refining desirable professional competencies including 1) keystone competencies, 2) deep foundational competencies, and 3) quantum competencies that help to differentiate them in the 21st century career marketplace. In the academic learning environment, students are challenged with reflection and high order thinking in the culmination of academic learning outcomes through the connection of practice to theory in various reflective learning exercises, self-actualization exercises, career planning exercises and competency based assessments.


Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall