Experiential Learning Partnerships in Hospitality

Carol A. Silkes
Experiential learning techniques have a long-established role in undergraduate hospitality programs. Several schools include courses in their curricula that provide students the opportunity to gain work experience through industry partnerships. As these programs evolve, an emphasis has been placed on preparing students for the “real-world” as opposed to simply teaching them basic vocational skills. One of the many ways this is accomplished is through industry-supported collaborations. Despite the appeal of these experiential classes, the success of these efforts is often questioned. This current study was developed to evaluate a sophomore level food and beverage class taught in collaboration with a four-star, four-diamond luxury hotel property using an experiential learning technique as the primary method of instruction and learning.

Literature Review
Experiential learning methods have been widely recognized as supplementing and improving the effectiveness of higher education. Many academics have criticized traditional instructional techniques because they permit students to remain passive participants, rather than being actively involved in the learning process (Bobbitt, Inks, Kemp, Mayo, 2000). Extensive research exists which concludes that too much classroom time is devoted to dispensing information, while an insufficient amount of emphasis is placed on developing skill sets, such as critical thinking, problem solving, and communication (McCarthy & McCarthy, 2006). Experiential exercises have been championed as a way to further develop these skills. The primary difficulty with utilizing experiential learning techniques is that while they do provide students the opportunity to actively learn, it may be difficult for professors to develop assignments which amalgamate theory and application appropriately (Bobbitt et al., 2000).

Experiential learning promotes learning through active experience (Kolb, 1984). In the university setting, experiential learning has become a common instructional method in marketing (Anselmi & Frankel, 2004), communication (Lipsky, 2006), and business (McCarthy & McCarthy, 2006; Joshi, Davis, Kathuria & Weidner III, 2005). Most hospitality research regarding experiential learning has focused on internships (Zopiatis, 2007; Zopiatis & Constanti, 2007; Holmes, 2006; Lam & Ching, 2006), field trips (Xie, 2004) and collaborative partnerships between university programs and industry and community organizations (Jackson, Dinkar & DeFranco, 2005).

This study will examine a sophomore undergraduate food and beverage management class which employs an experiential element as the primary learning technique. The course is designed to complement students’ classroom experience by providing them the opportunity to practice food and beverage management skills “hands-on.” Students rotate through five different food and beverage operations in a four-star four-diamond luxury property. The hotel experiences range from purchasing to fine dining preparations. In addition to the experiential nature of the course, students also work in teams throughout the semester. The team performance culminates with a three-course menu project that is designed, priced, and prepared by the student team for a panel of hotel executives to evaluate.

The objectives of this research are: 1.) Evaluate the attainment of learning objectives, 2.) Assess the overall performance and 3.) Measure the satisfaction of students in this learning environment. It is anticipated that based on the findings, implications will be drawn regarding critical success factors of team-based experiential learning techniques. Additionally, it is hoped that the results of this study may assist other hospitality management programs in developing or improving the experiential course offerings for their undergraduate student population