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Types of REAL Activities

Experiential learning has many different definitions, but at its core involves an integration of disciplinary knowledge and intellectual skills with “real-world” experiences.  Experiential education occurs along a continuum that prepares students to take increasingly autonomous and empowered roles in their own educational processes. 

REAL experiences are defined as student engagement in transformative, career building activities that connect classroom knowledge to real-world experience, create novel approaches to complex problems, and  contribute actions that benefit our educational, professional, and civil communities.  All REAL experiences are classified by a Level and Type.  

The following terms are used to define and classify VCU curricular and co-curricular types of experiential learning activities.



Capstone Course or Project

Capstones are culminating experiences that occur near the end of a student's program of study and entail a project that integrates and applies what the student has learned. The project might be a research paper, a performance, a portfolio of “best work,” or an exhibit of artwork. Capstones are offered both in departmental programs and, increasingly, in general education as well.

Career Exploration and Development

Learning about various occupations and their "fit" with a student's unique career preferences, for example the skills, interests and values a student wants satisfied. May also include job shadowing or externships, which provide students with a glimpse into the professional world and provide employers with a way to connect with students.

Civic Learning and Engagement

Civic engagement opportunities exist in the academic curriculum and in co-curricular experiences and can be pursued both at home and abroad.

Academic Civic Engagement refers to course-based experiential learning that engages students in learning activities that cultivate the knowledge, skills, values, and competencies needed for effective participation in a democracy. Academic civic engagement may include both academic civic engagement with service and academic civic engagement without service. Co-Curricular Civic Engagement (i.e., non-credit bearing) refers to experiential learning that occurs outside the academic curriculum and engages students in organized service activities that help to address community-identified needs.

Cooperative Education (Co-op)

A structured method of combining classroom-based education with practical work experience. A cooperative education experience, commonly known as a "co-op", provides academic credit for structured job experience. Typically, co-op programs alternate a semester of academic coursework with a semester of time in the work placement. The co-op also ties directly to coursework completed by the student before and/or during the time in the workplace.

Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Students cultivate, organize and/or manage a business, social enterprise or creative business/product idea from development through implementation.

Field Experience

Field experiences may be directed or mediated by the instructor and include a range of time-intensive endeavors that require varying levels of student interaction. For example, field experiences include short-term field trips, fieldwork and observational activities, such as classroom observations or attending a performance. Field experiences may or may not involve student interaction with members of the external community. Field experiences account for work-integrated educational experiences not encompassed by other forms, such as co-op, clinical placements, career exploration, professional development, practicum and internships.

Global Learning

Global learning consists of (1) communication across languages and cultures, (2) an appreciation of the practices and perspectives and products of global cultures, (3) connections within and across disciplines as they are practiced globally, (4) comparisons across languages and cultures, and (5) involvement with communities at home or abroad where learners encounter other languages and cultures.

Independent Study

Independent study opportunities are for-credit experiences where students engage in directed readings, serve as a research assistant for a faculty project, execute an independent research, scholarship, or creative inquiry project, or other related project. These are individualized academic experiences that provide students with the opportunity to pursue an academic topic in greater depth than the coverage of the topic in a class, or to pursue significant original research or creative inquiry projects, with the guidance of a faculty member, whether in the field, in archives, in the laboratory, or in the studio. The goal of these projects is to enhance the student's ability to engage in sustained, self-directed learning. Effective independent study/research/inquiry experiences require appropriate academic preparation, regular consultation with a faculty mentor, and a clear plan of action. Students assume much of the responsibility for defining, designing, and implementing these projects.

Integrative Learning

Students are encouraged to develop an integrative perspective by engaging curricular and co-curricular activities that require students to reflect, synthesize, and transfer knowledge. Assignments that might help facilitate these practices include combinations of structured reflection writing prompts, collaborative activities, and opportunities for students to apply their learning to new contexts (possibly through case studies or other similar formats).


Acts as the bridge from student life to professional life. A form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting. Internships give students the opportunity to gain valuable applied experience and make connections in professional fields they are considering for career paths; and give employers the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent. Internships can be part-time or full-time jobs, for which the student may receive reimbursement. Students may submit a final work report. Students’ work is evaluated based on predetermined learning goals set by all stakeholders involved.

Interprofessional Collaboration

Interprofessional collaboration prepares collaborative-ready individuals from two or more professions to learn about, from, and with each other in order to improve the health of patients and communities. Interprofessional education is necessary to increase Interprofessional practice and has become an area of emphasis for all educational programs in the health professions. Interprofessional collaboration opportunities improve collaboration through implementing interprofessional models of care that advance patient and population health, promoting research-driven innovations in interprofessional education and practice, and educating students and practitioners to lead in an evolving interprofessional health care environment.


Provides hands-on application of course concepts in a controlled environment, including activities such as observing, measuring, testing and experimenting. Labs may be scientific or technological in nature, however, other types of labs may also qualify, such as language labs.

Leadership Education

Co-curricular or curricular learning activities and educational environments that enhance and foster leadership abilities. Leadership pedagogy engages some or all of the following elements:

1) Intentionally designed programs, such as peer-mentoring;

2) Authentic leadership learning environments;

3) Application of knowledge, skills, and values;

4) Meaning making through reflection.

Living Learning Communities

Specialized residential environments designed to integrate on-campus living with a focused academic experience. Involves an intentional mix of curricular and co-curricular activities enabling students to fully engage real world experiences with an interdisciplinary approach.

Project-Based Learning

Project-Based Learning (PBL) is an instructional methodology that encourages students to learn and apply knowledge and skills through an engaging experience. PBL presents opportunities for deeper learning in-context and for the development of important skills tied to college and career readiness. Experiences may produce a deliverable output such as a report, grant proposal, project, presentation, art exhibit, recital, dramatic performance, or other relevant component.

Practicum/Clinical Placement

A course of study designed especially for the preparation of teachers and clinicians that involves the application of learned theories and concepts in a supervised practice-related environment. Reflection of work is present, and usually these experiences are linked to professional programs. Students may not be paid for their work, but they receive credit and are evaluated. Placements/practica may include ongoing classroom instruction or act as culminating experiences. This includes clinical placements.


Research experiences occur across a continuum, from class-room based inquiry to advanced investigative research design and implementation. Undergraduate research is defined as an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline. Research and creative scholarship happen in every department at VCU, from the School of the Arts to the Department of History to the School of Medicine and at every level of study from undergraduate to graduate and first professional students.

Service Learning

An intentional teaching strategy that engages students in organized service activities and guided reflection. The service activities benefit the community and, in combination with reflection and other classroom-based learning activities, enhance the academic curriculum of participating students. Service-learning designation is reserved for those credit-bearing academic experiences that involve each enrolled student in a minimum of 20 hours of service per semester, as well as in planned reflection activities. An official Banner service-learning designation is reserved for credit-bearing academic class sections designated by the Office of Service Learning.

LEVEL 1 A course or non-course activity that engages students in a clearly defined experiential learning activity but does not incorporate reflection. These activities engage students in "hands-on" learning which is defined as activities where students apply or explore disciplinary knowledge in real-world or simulated real-world contexts.
LEVEL 2 A course or non-course activity that engages students in a clearly defined experiential learning activity and incorporates either guided reflection or mentoring. Guided reflection is defined as an intentional metacognitive practice where students articulate personal, civic/social, or academic learning; identify values and attitudes developed through the activity; and/or explore and clarify career goals. Mentored experiences are defined as those wherein the faculty/staff member or activity supervisor responds regularly to student work, supports student reflection and integration of learning throughout the activity, and encourages goal-setting for future learning.
LEVEL 3 A course or non-course activity that engages students in a clearly defined experiential learning activity and incorporates guided reflection and mentoring.
LEVEL 4 A course or non-course activity that engages students in a clearly defined experiential learning activity that incorporates reflection and a mentoring model and that incorporates integrative learning as both a pedagogy and a learning outcome. Integrative learning is defined as both a pedagogy and a measure of a student’s capacity to connect, synthesize and transfer learning to new, complex situations beyond campus.