We Must Not Forget the Value of Learning by Doing

04/05/2013 03:12 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2013

As much of the higher education industry continues to focus on the possibilities of MOOCs, we must be careful not to forget that learning by doing in real life situations brings a value that the online experience can not fully replace.

At Lynn University, we believe that study abroad programs, internships, community service projects, leadership training and experiential learning trips blended into the traditional classroom structure have tremendously influenced our students' success both in college and after.

Our January Term, or J-Term, is one area that especially focuses on experiential learning. This annual two and a half week abbreviated term has been part of Lynn's core curriculum since 2010 and sends our students out to learn on the local, national and international level. Earlier this year, Lynn students took part in 28 campus-based courses and seven domestic and abroad study courses. Students who stayed here in Boca made a difference in the lives of others through assisting in the Miracle League, while others traveled to Washington, DC to witness President Obama's second inauguration or journeyed to Bali as part of a service project.

When our university needed to submit a Quality Enhancement Plan as part of our reaccreditation process, we once again looked toward student engagement and participation, this time as a way to enhance citizenship. After more than three years of planning, and continuous feedback from the campus community, Lynn launched The Citizenship Project: Commitment to Community in January 2012. All first-year students take one of 22 faculty-designed courses that address what it means to be a citizen in the 21st century. Students are then evaluated both quantitatively and qualitatively on a number of learning outcomes, including their abilities to evaluate a civic issue from multiple perspectives and identify and describe examples of civic engagement and articulate the relationship between service and citizenship. A fifth year impact report will be released in 2016.

As part of The Citizenship Project, students also participate in community service projects with local partner organizations. This past January, our Citizenship Project classes worked with Habitat for Humanity to raise a roof of a home, collected more than 3,250 pounds of trash along the local waterways and beaches, distributed meals to the needy, and completed a number of other projects.

Every January 12, our campus comes together for the Knights Unite Day of Caring, which is dedicated to the memory of the two Lynn faculty members and four students lost in the 2010 Haiti earthquake while on a humanitarian mission. This year, twenty-four thousand meals were packaged for children in Haiti, 400 pounds of canned goods were collected for a local food bank, and 50 trees and native shrubs were planted in a nearby nature preserve, among other accomplishments.

These trips and experiences are constantly described as "transformative" by our students and inspire them to do things they may not normally do, whether raising money for a school they visited on a service trip abroad or entering the job market at an advantage due to their experience gained while still in school. While witnessing the latest presidential inauguration live, one Lynn student texted his father "Great day today. One of the better days of my life so far. Will always remember it." Lynn alumnus Kuda Biza credits his experiences at Lynn as his inspiration to create a clothing line that donates part of its proceeds to charitable organizations in Africa for educational purposes.

Experiential learning has become a signature component of Lynn's educational experience, and we will remain committed to this learning style moving forward. At the moment, we are working to increase our international offerings even more with our newly launched Center for Learning Abroad. With a student body representing 87 nations, students are able to learn about the world from their peers, but we want to provide them with even more opportunities to learn firsthand.

Knowledge and action are interdependent, and Lynn University students are truly learning by doing.