What is Service-Learning?

Service-learning integrates service and learning to enhance both.  

Service-learning integrates community engagement (service) into course content and course learning goals. 

Service can take the form of either direct service or projects designed with and for community organizations, providing reciprocal benefits both to the community and student learning.  

 consolidates students' learning from their service experience.  

Preparation before students ever leave the campus should include thoughtful inquiry into the social identities of the students and of the people with whom they will work in the community, and into the issues of power, privilege, and social justice that underlie the boundaries that students may be crossing.

Service-Learning and Learning Outcomes

Through service-learning, students can develop knowledge, skills, attitudes, and perspectives in three different domains: academic learning, personal learning, and civic learning.

Academic Learning

Students find that academic theories or concepts are illuminated by their experience in the community and, conversely, students find that their experience in the community is explained through relevant theories and concepts. Students are led to question and explore more deeply academic theories or concepts when they don't appear to fit with students' experience in the community.

Personal Learning

Challenges encountered in community settings may make students more aware of their own strengths, limitations, and core values. Challenges encountered in community settings may lead students to develop initiative, self-discipline, and skills of communication.

Civic Learning

Students will learn:

  • To take the perspectives of community members who differ from them in race, social class, or other aspects of social identity
  • To work collaboratively toward shared goals
  • To recognize their capacity to make an impact on social problems

Service-Learning vs. Service

Nadinne Cruz, former director of the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University, defines service as “the creation and maintenance of more just relationships.”  

To volunteer (or "do service") is to work in an unpaid role that supports others in their attempts to reach their goals. It may focus on direct relationships with one individual or a small number of people, or it may focus on structural relationships that determine the power and resources available to a group of people.

To engage in service-learning is to combine community service with structured learning.

Both service and service-learning can be effective in addressing community needs and creating opportunities for shared learning. Service activities are neither less important nor less meaningful than service-learning; rather, they are two activities with different structures and objectives.