Using innovations and coursework to support pre- and post-service learning in authentic environments both domestically and globally.

Research has shown that experiential learning that involves and engages learners directly with the phenomenon they are studying, rather than merely thinking about the encounter or only considering the possibility of doing something with it, maximizes the likelihood the learner will put the new knowledge into action. Educational theorists have indicated that there is a critical link needed between the learning environment and the future work for which the learner is being prepared. Competence in a particular area is not only defined by the acquisition of new knowledge and skills, but also the adaptive skills necessary for application of that knowledge in a dynamic environment. While most classroom-based learning often involves decontextualized abstract knowledge, meaningful learning is situated within normally occurring activity, context and culture. Our own research has shown that when these instructional strategies and approaches are used, learners demonstrate not only achievement of learning objectives, but more importantly behavioral objectives.

The Yang-Tan Institute designs, conducts, and evaluates an array of experiential and situated learning opportunities—spanning across both pre- and post-service learning. Across these learning opportunities, we employ several learning strategies, including: authentic environments and activities; instructional scaffolding and resources; reflection; expert modeling; and, observation.

In 2009, we launched a sequence of disability studies courses within the ILR School—ranging from Disability Law to Disability Considerations in Human Resource Policy and Practice, these pre-service courses impact about 250 students a year from across the Cornell campus—all of whom are seeking ways to integrate disability knowledge into their chosen careers. The Disability and Employment Global Applied Learning Initiative within the Yang-Tan Institute enables Cornell students to connect their classroom learning, reflection, personal growth, and civic responsibility to meaningful international service experiences related to disability and the workplace. For practitioners already in the field, the Yang-Tan Institute offers an array of public professional development programs, as well as training programs which can be customized to the needs of end users, and offered in consultation with interested stakeholders. Over the past decade, the Yang-Tan Institute has also pioneered several Just-in-Time Toolkits—providing critical instructional scaffolding and learning tools for practitioners at the point and place in time when they need it most.