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Achieving goals in higher education: An experiential approach to sustainability studies

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Purpose ‐ The primary purpose of this paper is to provide a concrete example of how experiential learning approaches (from internships in global policy institutes to visiting communities in rural Amazonia to meeting with officials from inter-governmental organizations) can be implemented in order to most effectively meet specific educational goals in international sustainability studies. Design/methodology/approach ‐ Using four key educational goals as the framework for discussion, the author presents a multi-dimensional international experiential program at American University as an example of how non-traditional educational approaches can be used to supplement the traditional lecture-based format. Findings ‐ The case illustrates how experiential learning offers an educational experience that most effectively: connects the academic with the practice, fosters an effective interdisciplinary curriculum, links students to work experience and job opportunities, and engages and empowers students. Research limitations/implications ‐ This paper contributes to the literature on experiential learning and sustainability studies and argues that experiential learning approaches deserve greater attention in theory and practice. Practical implications ‐ The unique institutional and course structure presented in this case is unlikely to be replicated in most higher education settings, but select elements of this model can be incorporated into traditional institutional settings to enhance lecture-centric curricula. Originality/value ‐ The paper takes on the difficult task of simultaneously addressing traditional goals (e.g. connecting theory with practice; preparing students for the job market) with less traditional goals (e.g. engaging and empowering students) in higher education. This paper illustrates how these goals are often mutually reinforcing.
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