Experiential Learning

Every student’s program of study centers on the familiar work of classroom and laboratory, library and studio. Yet important learning also takes place in less familiar settings, where the student is called upon to adapt to a new environment, to act without one’s customary support system, to develop trust in one’s own resources of intelligence and discipline. It is to encourage that kind of learning, so critical to personal maturity, that the College makes available a variety of special programs.

What is Experiential Education?

Experiential education emphasizes guided activity as a primary mode of learning. It often takes place outside the conventional setting of a classroom, library, or laboratory, and  typically does not take place at a study desk. While mastery of information, understanding of expert opinion and cognitive learning are not ignored, effective change and growth is stressed. By exposing students to unfamiliar tasks and environments, experiential learning encourages mental and emotional adjustments and promotes the development of new skills and attitudes. It has as a principal goal the creation of sense of achievement, personal competence, and self-reliance.

Experiential learning begins with concrete experience, but it does not stop there. It also involves an important element of reflection, an effort to develop a clear view of what one is doing and to assess its value. These observations and reflections should lead learners to new generalizations and concepts, fresh understandings of the world and oneself, and some enhancement of ability. Subsequently, new learning should be tested and refined in a different situation or additional experiences. At its best, experiential learning deepens the learners' sensitivity to social and physical surroundings and encourages them to use senses and wits more fully. Thus it affords powerful opportunities for holistic learning.

An “experiential education” course has the following characteristics:

  • It involves active and sustained participation by the student.
  • It is a kind of experience that the student has not had before.
  • It requires the student not only to do something new but to stand back from the activity, assess its significance, and draw conclusions about it.
  • It provides opportunities to test these conclusions (or, in the case of a skill-oriented course, to demonstrate increased mastery).
  • It has as a major goal some modification in attitude or outlook, some change in personal perspective, and some deepening of insight regarding oneself and others or oneself and the world.

Within the guidelines, experiential education courses are quite diverse in type. They include exploring a creative process, developing new physical skills, living for a time in an alien setting, or trying out a field through a "hands-on" approach. Courses having to do with service projects, life-enhancing activities, or new leisure skills and interests are especially appropriate. Some experiential learning courses assess fees that vary with particular offerings each year.

Types of Experiential Learning at MC

Community Engagement

Maryville College offers numerous opportunities for students to become involved in volunteer service. The Director of Community Engagement coordinates a broad program that includes tutoring, adult literacy, work in social service agencies, environmental projects, and many other possibilities. More information can be found on the Center for Community Engagement page

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont

The Great Smoky Mountains Institute is located in the National Park just 20 miles from Maryville College. The program focuses on environmental education and on the natural and cultural history of the area. A variety of opportunities at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute are available to Maryville College students. The Institute offers programs for college credit. Internships, practicum experiences, and postgraduate work opportunities are also available. Interns and staff members work principally as instructors for the wide variety of groups that visit the Institute. Further information is available from the Institute Director.

The Great Smokies Experience is a one-of-a-kind, credit-bearing, college class experience for high school students entering their junior and senior years.  Get more information →


Internships and other types of practical experience are available in nearly all major fields. They provide excellent opportunities to gain practical experience in field settings. Details may be found in the catalog and under the course listings for academic programs of study.