Experiential Learning

Four individuals sitting at a table looking at paperwork

Learning from experience is an intentional process. One way for employees to learn from experience is through an experiential learning opportunity (ELO). Experiential learning opportunities are a creative way to develop and engage employees while moving projects forward. They take the learner outside their comfort zone and force them to actively engage and reflect on a particular subject.

The intent of an Experiential Learning Opportunity program is for a manager and unit human resources (HR) to provide an employee with a specific experience such as:

  • special project assignment on the employee’s current team,
  • part-time temporary assignment on a new team, or
  • full-time temporary assignment on a new team

Experiential learning opportunities must be supported by the manager, employee and the unit HR. These type of programs provide employees who are successful in their current role the opportunity to work with a new team of people on a special project or assignment for a specific period of time. These experiences offer employees:

  • a broader understanding of the university and/or their unit,
  • a chance to further develop their skills and gain relevant experience,
  • an opportunity to increase their network, and
  • a satisfying work experience where they can thrive!

Through ongoing development conversations, the employee will work with their manager to identify the appropriate opportunity and timing. It’s the employee’s responsibility to think deliberately about how the experience will align with their skills, interests and goals and they will be required to reflect on their experience throughout the assignment. The unit Human Resources representative must be informed and supportive of this assignment as well and ensure there are no violations of university or HR policy relating to the work.

If an employee has an opportunity to engage in either a part-time or full-time temporary assignment on a new team they must communicate clearly with both their current or “home” manager and the new or “host” manager. Managers from both units (the “home” manager and the “host” manager) must work together to ensure a successful development opportunity.

Role Description and Expectations

In preparation for the transition, the host manager is asked to provide a brief description of the role and high level expectations:

  • Role Description:
  • Expectations:
  • Metrics (how performance will be measured):
  • Duration of Assignment:

Ongoing Communication

In order to make a successful learning experience for all parties, there needs to be ongoing communication between the interim manager, the employee and the home manager. Here are some suggestions for staying connected with the employee:

The Interim Manager should:

  • Schedule an initial meeting with the employee to discuss the role, responsibilities and expectations
  • Provide feedback to the employee on a regular basis throughout their assignment
  • Schedule a final discussion with the employee to share performance feedback. This is also a great time for the employee to provide feedback about their experience.

The Home Manager should:

  • Stay connected with the employee to ensure a smooth transition and keep them engaged in activities and projects in their home unit
  • Continue to meet regularly with the employee to discuss performance of their current role

First Day Checklist for the Host Manager

Use the checklist provided below to see if your planning is complete for the ELO employee’s first few days on your team. Check those items below, which have already been planned for and then note what else needs to be done before the ELO employee officially begins working with you.

  • Desk/workplace is available and stocked with supplies
  • Interim Manager or buddy has scheduled time to meet with the ELO employee
  • Interim Manager or buddy plans to introduce the ELO employee to as many people as necessary
  • Interim Manager has scheduled a specific time and place for a performance discussion with the ELO employee to include: Role and Responsibilities, Expectations, and Feedback Process
  • Appropriate training for the employee is scheduled
  • Interim manager schedules regular check-ins with home manager
  • Interim manager schedules regular check-ins with employee

Managing Downtime

Throughout the project, the ELO employee will spend approximately x% of their workweek with the interim department/unit or working on the specific assignment. As the employee becomes more comfortable with the work assigned, they may find they have some downtime. Listed below are a few suggestions for downtime in order to ensure this is the best learning experience possible for the employee and that the interim manager and the employee are making the most of this experience:

  • Are there additional team projects the employee can assist with?
  • Is there additional training the employee can attend to further their professional development?
  • Are there training materials they can review?
  • Should they schedule “shadow” time with a team member?
  • Are there additional meetings they should attend?
  • Are there other people they should be connecting with?


The manager is also responsible for providing regular feedback to the employee during the experiential learning opportunity. Employees are looking for feedback on how they are doing, especially when they are performing new tasks. Employees are also encouraged to create a routine practice of seeking feedback from their manager and peers.

Host managers should provide home managers and the employee with specific verbal and written feedback once the assignment is complete. This feedback should be incorporated into the annual performance management discussion with the employee.

It is a best practice to have the employee complete an Employee Interest Questionnaire. This will allow the manager(s) and the employee to ensure the opportunity is aligned with the employee’s interest and passion. Once complete, these documents should be signed by the current manager, employee, unit HR and host manager (if appropriate).

Employee Interest Questionnaire

Employee Reflection

A critical piece of experiential learning is reflection. Throughout the assignment, employees will be asked to reflect on their experience and how they will continue to apply what they learned in their workplace. This should occur during ongoing dialog with the manager. Once the assignment is complete, employees are encouraged to share their thoughts with their current manager and/or host manager.

Questions for Reflection