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Stepping Out of the Workshop: The Case for Experiential Learning in Advisor Training and Development
 Authored by:  Mark P. Duslak and Craig M. McGill

Baseball players do not only read about hitting a ball to improve their performance—they take batting practice.  Teachers learn by teaching, counselors learn by counseling, and doctors learn through practice.  This all occurs initially in a safe, respectful, and supervised setting and often continues throughout these careers.  In a presentation given at a NACADA-sponsored state Drive-In conference (Duslak & Smith, 2014), the first author asked participants to write their most meaningful training experience on a post-it note.  Of 32 responses, 18 specifically mentioned shadowing (56%) and an additional six respondents cited experiential activities such as “hands-on-training” and “being observed” (19%).  In combination, 75% of the participants indicated that their best training experiences involved some level of experiential training.

In the early 2000s, typical academic advisor trainings were single day workshops that presented information in a passive, lecture-based manner focusing on the informational components of advising (Habley, 2004; Higginson, 2000; Koring, 2005).  There have been mild improvements since then.  The NACADA New Advising Professionals Survey (Cuccia, 2009) indicated that over 60% of new advisors were either “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with the professional development they had received.  The most popular method of initial training was “Shadowing experienced advisors” (over 70%). The value of learning by experience has been theorized for quite some time.  John Dewey (1938) wrote, “…all genuine education comes about through experience” but not “all experiences are genuinely or equally educative” (p. 13). In the field of academic advising, support has been established for experiential learning for relational topics and its inclusion in advisor training and development has been recommended (McClellan, 2007; Folsom, Joslin, & Yoder, 2005). A review of the training and development literature in academic advising suggests that the potential for experiential learning activities has not yet been fully realized.  Tokarczyk (2012), in an unpublished dissertation, found support for advisors learning through workplace observation and “hands on training”, but due to the nature of the study, its generalizability is limited.

In considering different types of experiential learning activities, an important distinction must be made between training and development. This article builds on a distinction delineated by Voller, Miller, and Neste (2010):

…the term training refers to working with new academic advisors to pre­pare them to advise students. The editors continue to use the term training for activities undertaken during the advisor’s first year. Development refers to professional development for experienced advi­sors and thus is defined as the ongoing education and learning that academic advisors receive after the first year and throughout their careers. (p. 8)

Although further empirical research should validate the best forms of advisor workplace training and development, this article reviews some of the seminal work in experiential learning and proposes the ways in which advisors—of all levels of experience—might best learn through experience and observation. Recommendations will be made in instances when one model of learning appears to be better suited for one of the aforementioned terms (See Figure 1).

Experiential Learning
Experiential learning is a “continuous process grounded in experience” (Kolb, 1984, p.27), a synthesis of, “experience, perception, cognition, and behavior” (p. 21). In learning through experience, adults can draw upon lessons and utilize tools for the future: “Learning from experience involves adults’ connecting what they have learned from current experiences to those in the past as well to possible future situations” (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 185). In Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning (1956), knowledge—defined as the simple recall of facts—represents the lowest level of learning activities.  Application and analysis represent higher levels of learning and are considered to represent greater depths of understanding.  In line with this theory, experiential learning, by reason of its structure, appears to generate higher levels of learning than other more passive forms of learning experiences commonly employed in advisor professional development.  

The format of how learning occurs can vary significantly.  Experiential learning can be guided and/or self-directed.  It can be presented in a group or individual setting.  The learner can vary his or her degree of participation in the experience as it occurs. The experience can occur in environments that are simulated, drawn from in-field examples, or take place in the actual work environment.  If someone is leading the experiential learning, his or her authority may range from peer to superior. Regardless of structure, effective experiential learning includes a comfortable atmosphere for exploration and providing an experience that is authentic (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner, 2007). 

Models of Experiential Learning

Transcription Analysis

Although potentially time-consuming, writing the entirety of an advising session provides unique opportunities for self-observation, reflection, and cooperative discussion. In his counseling internship, the first author was asked to transcribe his counseling sessions.  The transcription was then reviewed by his internship coordinator and a discussion ensued which spanned theoretical and practical suggestions.  By transcribing a session, attention is drawn to details of the conversation that may have gone overlooked if left to memory.  Transcription forces the learner to slow down and process the flow of the conversation.  Potential points of reflection include word choice, exploring themes/topics and generating alternative approaches.  Assuming a different approach or theoretical orientation provides the opportunity for an advisor to expand his or her repertoire of techniques.  Through ongoing relationship with a supervisor, transcription analysis can facilitate long-term growth and development.  The supervisor and supervisee can set coordinated goals for the next sessions—which are subsequently revised—allowing a progression of growth and honing of skills.  This form of learning would seem best suited for new advisor training since it typically represents a basic exploration of advisor knowledge, skills and dispositions.


Shadowing refers to observing another advisor perform his or her job tasks.  One of the advantages of shadowing is that is a more passive form of learning.  This allows the learner to direct their efforts toward focusing on points of the interaction of which he or she wishes to focus (Hoover, Giambatista, & Belkin, 2012).  Guided discussion after the observation may assist the learner in processing the observation. Shadowing a variety of advisors with varying styles allows advisors to observe multiple approaches.  Doing so helps the advisor to integrate styles and tactics into his or her personal advising style. Shadowing (especially interdepartmentally) can be beneficial as a development activity, although it appears to occur more frequently in advisor training.  We recommend that shadowing be predominantly used for new advisor training. 

Case Studies/Role Plays

Case studies afford the opportunity to create scenarios that exemplify a specific problem situation or present the use of a specific approach. Steele (2003) suggests a triad model of examining cases in which three individuals recreate a scenario by assuming the roles of advisor, advisee, and observer.  Based on the goals of the case study, the post-session processing can take different forms. To broaden the depth of learning, advisors can videotape the session to assess the effectiveness of the advising session for another perspective. The group can taper the role-play session to a specific goal by varying the challenges of the situation.  Because live students are not involved, it may be more comfortable for an advisor to attempt a new approach.  One of the limitations of role playing is that even with the best actors/actresses, the role play is a constructed environment and differs from being in-the-moment. Recommendations of this model for new or seasoned advisors depends on the role the advisor plays in the role play (Advisor, advisee, or observer) the former two roles would appear to be better suited for seasoned advisors’ development.  New advisors could benefit from playing the ‘observer’ in case studies in a manner similar to shadowing. 

Clinical Observation/Cognitive Apprenticeships

It is common in other related fields for professionals to undergo clinical observation.  Activities “in-the-field” are observed by a peer or superior for subsequent analysis.  With signed consent of the student, advising sessions can be audio or video recorded and then viewed, analyzed and discussed. While the thought of seeing or hearing a recorded version of oneself can elicit the typical cringe reaction, experience has taught the authors that the trepidation of this process quickly evaporates as one discovers the vast amount of information one can acquire through this exercise.  Body language, voice inflection and intonation, and microexpressions are some areas suitable for exploration.  One can change the focus of the review based on the goals of the learner.  While self-observation has merit, inviting others to contribute their opinions invites more robust analysis.  Given the intensity and depth this model of learning typically incorporates, it would appear to be appropriate for seasoned advisor development.

Barriers to Training and Development which Utilize Experiential Learning

In order to be successful, a significant amount of time, planning, and training needs to occur prior to implementation of an experiential training program.  The activity choice should take into consideration whether the goal is advisor training or advisor development.  Time should be allocated to create the experience and provide ample opportunity for pre- and post- experience processing. Ample activity planning must occur to ensure authenticity.  If the experiential learning is being actively facilitated, it is important that the facilitator possess adequate skills of providing constructive feedback that is sensitive to the learner’s ego. One should remember that allowing oneself to be observed and critiqued involves a degree of risk.  An inappropriate or mishandled comment can cause the experience to do more harm than good.  Learning characteristics such as, “…confidence in abilities, good self-esteem, support from others, and trust in others” (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 165) are important to having a successful experience. Advisors who are still building their self-efficacy and self-esteem may not be the best candidates for experiential learning (especially for the more active forms such as clinical observation).  Many of these potential downsides can be managed or avoided with the proper planning and resource allocation—and the potential to build capacity within one’s advising team merits the consideration of creating opportunities for experiential learning.

At face value, experiential learning activities may not seem to be worth the effort and risk. However, solely attending information sessions on new university policies and procedures will not create master advisors.  For many other professions that value relationship-building—such as counseling, teaching, and medicine—experiential learning is a significant component to building the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to be effective.  In order for practitioners in academic advising to reach the full potential of facilitating the growth and development of our students, alternative forms of learning should be considered. Experiential learning appears to be an ideal vehicle for acquiring skills to engage in practices that extend beyond acting as a source of information.  From our personal experiences and numerous conversations with other advisors, it appears that currently very few advisors are afforded opportunities to learn these critical skills through experiences.  In the quest for the professionalization of the field, scholars should continue to investigate the effectiveness of specific experiential learning activities, the student outcomes attained from advisors trained via these methods, and more rigorous survey designs of advisor professional development practices.  The models listed in this article only constitute a smattering of the possibilities available.  With the right consideration, creativity, and effort, experiential learning appears to be an impactful way to forward the depth and rigor of advisor training and development. 

Mark P. Duslak
Academic Advisor, INTO USF
University of South Florida

Craig M. McGill
Academic Advisor, Department of English
Florida International University


Bloom, B. S. (1956 ). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Vol. 1: Cognitive Domain. New York, NY: McKay.

Cuccia, C. (2009). New Advising Professionals Survey. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Collier Books.

Duslak, M. & Smith, A. (2014, May). Charting a better course for new advisors: Strategies, case studies, and best practices for new advisor training and development. Presentation at the Drive-In conference for the National Association of Academic Advisors, Tampa, FL.

Ehrich, L., Hansford, B., & Tennent, L. (2004). Formal mentoring programs in education and other professions: A review of the literature. Educational Administration Quarterly, 40(4), 518-540.

Fenwick, T., (2003). Learning through experience: troubling orthodoxies and intersecting questions, professional practices in adult education and lifelong learning. (3rd Ed.). Malabar, FL: Krieger.

Folsom, P., Joslin, J., & Yoder, F. (2005). From advisor training to advisor development: Creating a blueprint for first-year advisors.  Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:

Habley, W. (2004). Current practices in academic advising: Final report of ACT ’s Sixth National Survey on Academic Advising. (NACADA Monograph Series, no 10.) Manhattan, KS: National Academic Advising Association.

Higginson, L. C. (2000) A Framework for training program content. In V. N. Gordon, W.R. Habley, & Associates (Eds.) Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (pp. 298-307). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Retrieved from

Hoover, J., Giambatista, R., & Belkin, L., (2012). Eyes on, hands on: Vicarious observational learning as an enhancement of direct experience. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 11(4), 591-608.

Koring, H. (2005). Advisor training and development. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

McClellan, J. L. (2007). Content components for advisor training: Revisited. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:

Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Steele, G. (2003). A research-based approach to working with undecided students: A case study illustration. NACADA Journal, 23(1&2), 10-20. 

Tokarczyk, K. (2012).  Workplace learning of professional academic advisors at urban universities: A basic interpretive qualitative investigation (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio.

Voller, J. G., Miller, M. A., & Neste, S. L. (Eds.). (2010). Comprehensive Advisor Training and Development: Practices That Deliver. Manhattan, KS: NACADA & Kansas State University.

Cite this resource using APA style as:

Duslak, M.P. & McGill, C.M.(2014). Stepping out of the workshop: The case for experiential learning in advisor training and development.Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse Resources web site.

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