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Unconventional Learning Experiences for College Students That Enhance Tech Education

Charlie Fletcher

Unconventional Learning Experiences for College Students That Enhance Tech Education

Technology has become an integral part of our society. This can offer great career opportunities after you graduate. Even not strictly tech-focused careers — such as academic leadership — require a certain amount of hardware and software knowledge as more digital tools are integrated into roles.

The result of this is that it’s vital to seek out a more in-depth technological education. Yet, taking on another degree to do this is not always practical. One solution is to seek out unconventional learning experiences that enhance your tech skill set. This may be to gain nuanced abilities related to your tech major, or to develop knowledge that can help you in other fields, like business or the arts.

Let’s take a look at a few ways you can take the road less traveled to boost your relationship with tech.


Traditional college environments can often be focused on theory and classroom learning. Yet, you may find that you get more out of your education when you’re in a more dynamic and collaborative situation. Perhaps you need to be surrounded by peers engaging in interesting activities or even a little competition. This is where hackathons can be useful additions to your college curriculum.

Hackathons are events that give groups of enthusiastic programmers the opportunity to create, test, or improve software platforms. It’s an engineering challenge, at its heart, with teams usually given around 48 hours to develop an innovative new product or seek out weaknesses in a system. For those with interests and skills in programming, this can be a fun challenge, a chance to learn from more experienced experts and connect with both peers and potential employers.

Some hackathons are arranged by software companies, while others are led by organizations that promote tech learning. It may be the case that your college IT department will keep a list of local events.There are also various websites — such as Devpost and Major League Hacking — that allow you to search for online and in-person hackathons.

You can gain a more nuanced understanding of how development occurs in the real world and how people with diverse skill sets contribute to the final product. Not to mention that you can better understand what weaknesses and bugs are common in software, enabling you to find innovative and practical ways to address such issues that aren’t always covered in your degree course alone.

Citizen Science Projects

Another unconventional learning approach for tech students is to get hands-on field experience. This involves interacting with tools in ways that reflect the practical — rather than theoretical — application of STEM knowledge. Certainly, seeking industry internships can be useful. However, you may discover it’s more enriching to pursue some outdoor activities that technology enthusiasts find engaging. Flying drones, exploring nature with observation apps, and storm-watching are great options. You can also find these activities can be more meaningful and educational if you combine them with citizen science projects.

Some options here could include:

  • Coastal surveys: Drones are a fantastic tool to map coastlines and gain a better understanding of current environmental conditions and degradation. They’re agile, can cover long distances, and have onboard sensors that gather data. As a result, there are citizen science coastal surveying projects that provide participants with training on piloting unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and guidance on how to capture information that can then create 3D maps for reference and further exploration.
  • Biodiversity observation: One of the most common ways in which technology and citizen science are combined is in biodiversity observation. Projects see participants explore outdoor environments and take photographs of plants, wildlife, and insects in specific locations. They then use apps to identify species and provide researchers with data that highlights changes in migration or the health of the ecosystem.

As a college student, you’re often in a good position to engage with citizen science projects. Many are run directly by universities, so reaching out to your professors is a good way to start looking for a project you’ll find interesting. You can also use sites — such as SciStarter — that connect volunteers with projects.

Online Certifications

Heading to in-person classes as part of a structured curriculum is the conventional approach to getting qualifications. But there are also less traditional tech approaches. The increasing number of accredited short online tech courses can augment your degree with advanced skills. Importantly, many providers use e-learning technology to make the curriculum more tailored to individual learners with personalized materials and delivery methods, including virtual reality (VR).

Some tech-related certifications you might focus on include the following.

Web design

Many careers—particularly if you plan to start your own business— benefit from knowing the basics of web design. Yet this isn’t a common part of degree courses. Taking an online course in web design helps you to gain expert-level skills in programming languages such as HTML and CSS. You can also learn the principles of user experience (UX) that empower you to formulate design strategies in your projects to make interfaces more accessible and engaging.


There are few industries that don’t experience cybersecurity threats. Cybercrime is even a risk while you’re a student. Taking cybersecurity courses provides you with skills to effectively safeguard against and respond to hacking and other issues. Indeed, having this knowledge can see you command higher salaries when you move into the workplace. The average salary for information technology (IT) security specialists—including those with Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) qualifications—is around $107,023.


Unconventional tech learning experiences can augment your degree with valuable skills. This can range from the competitive landscape of hackathons to online courses you can take in your spare time. It is vital to be mindful of the potential for burnout. Try to avoid taking on experiences that you can’t realistically fit into your schedule. While tech is fascinating and important, your mental wellness should always be a priority.

SEE ALSO: From Lecture Halls to Stonehenge: Enriching Your History Studies with Real-World Exploration

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