Co-Curricular Learning: What is it and How Can You Benefit?

This is a guest post by social work masters Sydney James.

Some adults resist returning to school for a graduate degree for one reason: fear of boredom. They don’t want to spend hours sitting in a classroom or lecture hall, listening to a professor drone on about some esoteric subject — or spend an equal number of hours reading that lecture online.

However, graduate education has changed significantly from the days of lecture-based classes, and many programs, especially public health masters programs, have moved toward a co-curricular learning model that seeks to engage students in active learning and allow them to apply their knowledge in real-world situations.

What Is Co-Curricular Learning?

Co-curricular learning is a combination of formal and informal learning opportunities. For example, while you might attend class and complete assignments, you’ll also learn through workshops, guest lectures, field trips, internships and events where you can interact with other students and faculty. The idea behind co-curricular learning is that learning can take place anywhere, not just in the classroom, and that outside opportunities enrich the educational experience.

Co-Curricular Learning in the Graduate Environment

Co-curricular learning is common in the primary grades — children learning about the ocean, for example, might learn more by visiting an aquarium — but it’s not often associated with graduate school; however, many programs, even online human services degree or other online programs, are implementing co-curricular opportunities. For example, students might complete an internship in their area or complete case studies on local services and organizations to present to the class. This allows both the student and her classmates to learn.

Some graduate programs include a co-curricular element by requiring students to complete internships or co-ops before graduation. In some cases, students with extensive work experience can opt out of this type of experience, but in many cases the “real world” experience is an important part of the curriculum. Other graduate requirements might include observations, attendance at conferences or workshops, or participation in clubs or honor societies.

How Co-Curricular Learning Benefits You

Perhaps the greatest benefit of a co-curricular learning environment is that it helps keep students engaged in their education. It also helps you make the connections between what you learn in the classroom — either in person or online — and the outside world.

For example, attending a conference devoted to an issue in your field allows you to interact with other students as well as those who are working in the field. You’ll learn about the latest advancements in the body of knowledge, as well as the issues that face professionals — and how they are developing solutions. You‘ll not only see what you’re learning put into action but also return to class with new perspectives to share and discuss.

Another benefit of a co-curricular environment is that it ties together seemingly disparate aspects of your education. Many graduate programs require a capstone project or presentation as a requirement for graduation. The notion behind a capstone project is that students will synthesize all of their learning from their classwork with a real-world problem or issue and use that knowledge to develop a workable solution. Instead of simply memorizing facts and theories, co-curricular learning requires students to use their knowledge and skills to apply critical thinking and analysis to a situation.

Co-curricular learning also benefits graduate students in that it encourages building relationships and a professional network. Particularly in the online learning environment, students may feel isolated, simply completing their work and moving on. By encouraging collaboration, universities help students build a network, which many grads list as one of the major benefits of going to graduate school.

In many cases, it’s the graduate student’s responsibility to seek opportunities to get the most out of his or her educational experience. Schools often make this task easier, though, by presenting a wide range of opportunities for co-curricular learning — from guest lecturers to internships. These programs take grad school beyond the lecture hall and into the real world.

Image from Flickr’s Creative Commons

About the Author: Sydney James recently received her master’s degree in social work. Although she studied online, she was heavily involved in her program’s planning committee and maintains an active networking group among her former classmates.

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