Purpose: The purpose of this study was to describe student perceptions of their learning following experiential learning (EL) activities in a foodservice management course. Nutrition and dietetics education programs have a range of competencies students must learn and demonstrate throughout their curriculum. Learning styles differ amongst students and research has demonstrated they prefer to engage in EL (direct experience) activities to develop their knowledge. Foodservice management is one area of the curriculum that teaches students the basic functions of management; planning, organizing, directing, controlling, and staffing related to food, materials, facilities, and human resources. While this can be taught didactically, engaging in EL for this content may be a more valuable form of pedagogy to improve student understanding and use of content. Methods: After undergoing review and gaining approval from the Institutional Review Board, 196 nutrition and dietetic students from a regional comprehensive institution with an accredited undergraduate didactic program in dietetics were invited to participate in two experiential learning activities. At the conclusion of the activities, students completed an 8-question survey of their experiences. Results: Over 88% of students agreed EL activities promote better understanding of course content and 90% of students were in agreement that EL activities create an environment conducive to applying theory. Additionally, over 81% of students agreed that the activities encouraged the utilization of critical thinking skills, and 76% believed the activities promoted the value of teamwork and working independently. Finally, students were asked to respond to how the EL activity helped them understand course content and objectives. Two predominate themes emerged in the review of the open-ended responses. The first, EL helped connect and reinforce didactic theory to the real world ultimately assisting students to better prepare themselves for their career. The second focused on learning styles and students’ appreciation for the non-traditional way of learning, outside the classroom, with hands-on application. Conclusions: The results of the study provide support for the use of EL activities in foodservice management courses in a dietetics program. Participation in EL activities helped students close the loop between theoretical and applied learning. EL helped the development and utilization of skills employers are seeking such as critical thinking, teamwork, and independence. EL allows students to be hands-on in their learning and engage in activities aligned with theory and content necessary to meet competencies for entry-level practice in the field. Future research should include other types of foodservice establishments where a registered dietitian nutritionist is employed to determine if those environments have a positive impact on student learning.

Author Bio(s)

Michael T. Holik, Ed.D., MS.Ed., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics in the College of Health Sciences at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

Scott Heinerichs, Ed.D., AT., is a Dean of the College of Health Sciences and Athletic Trainer at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

Jena Wood, MS., RDN, LDN, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Adjunct at West Chester University. Jena is also a licensed Dietitian Nutritionist in the state of Pennsylvania.





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