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The Advantages of Experiential Learning

April 12, 2021

Experiential learning is central to the MS in Engineering Management Product Management program at Merrimack College. But what exactly is experiential learning and why is it important?

Experiential learning is a process that gives students an opportunity to immediately apply what they’ve been taught to solve real-world problems. Reinforcing new knowledge through active experience provides instant feedback on their understanding. Through experiential learning, students can test, practice, and better incorporate new material into their long-term comprehension.

Learning through active experience as a method of education reflects the power and core simplicity of the concept. This power and simplicity derive from our native human capacity to learn.

Developed by David Kolb, experiential learning theory emphasizes a holistic approach, assimilating cognition, environment, and emotions into the learning process.

The Experiential Learning Cycle

There are four stages to experiential learning. Kolbe divided these stages into two modes of acquiring or “grasping” new experience and two modes of assimilating or “transforming” that experience.


(1) Concrete experience: the learner actively engages with the course material.

(2) Reflection on the new experience: the student reflects on this experience, comparing it with prior experience.


(3) Abstract conceptualization: With reflection on a new experience, the student develops new connections and ideas on the course material.  

(4) Active experimentation: The student integrates and reinforces these connections through experiential investigation.

Together, these four stages comprise an experiential learning cycle.

The Advantages of Experiential Learning for Students

For many college students, experiential learning offers perhaps the most straightforward path to academic and career success. One of the main strengths of the pedagogy is its application to real-world skills.

Experiential learning is a full body/mind experience:

  • An active experience initiates deep and lasting connections with course material.
  • Hands-on experience supports student motivation for learning.
  • The practical application of new skills and concepts heightens the impact of emotion on learning.
  • Critical reflection on the new experience promotes learning.

Online Experiential Learning in Product Management

The online Master in Engineering Degree program with a concentration in Product Management at Merrimack College takes full advantage of an experiential learning format.

The program is designed in partnership with active industry input. This collaboration ensures a level of understanding and experience required in the real world. Students learn new concepts through actual industry product management experience.

The program is intended for working professionals, helping students tap into their current professional knowledge base from prior experience. As we’ve learned, this allows students to integrate new learning through abstract conceptualization viscerally.

Program Highlights

As well as an experiential, real-world curriculum, the online MSEM in Product Management program offers students the flexibility they need to pursue education while maintaining their current responsibilities.

Other highlights of the program include:

  • Multi-faceted: Students experience and practice a range of topics, preparing them to assume industry roles. The core curriculum covers business, data science and analytics, and engineering management. Students then choose their preferred product management track of either life sciences, software, or technology.
  • Industry-aligned: Merrimack College works closely with industry to determine skill gaps professionals encounter when pursuing their product management careers. This close collaborative partnership is a win-win for students and their future employers.
  • Flexible online format: Built for working professionals, the program’s online structure combines flexibility with student engagement. Students have opportunities to interact with instructors and fellow students. The deep industry experience of all faculty help students reinforce new skills and build on their prior knowledge.

Based on their desired elective track, students participate in three hands-on, real-world product management projects. These projects include planning a new product development plan, designing a product marketing program, and, as a capstone, developing a comprehensive product realization plan.  All projects are focused on products and/or services of the student’s choice.

Students emerge from the program with the knowledge and skills they’ll need to assume leadership roles in product management. What’s more, they’ll cement their new learning through applied experience.

Merrimack’s MS in Engineering Management with a concentration in Product Management is perfect for working professionals ready to learn and experience career growth in this exciting field.