Service Learning Definition

Service learning is a method of teaching and learning that uses experiential, community-based activities to enhance student learning and address identified social issues.

Service-learning is a high impact practice and can be used by students across a wide range of disciplines.

It strengthens academic content knowledge, promotes civic responsibility and fosters reflection. It also develops workplace skills and prepares students for life beyond college.


Service learning is an education method that combines academic content with community service to cultivate critical, reflective thinking and civic responsibility. This approach is a politically progressive way for students to learn about their community and the world around them.

While most commonly tied to social science courses (political science, sociology, environmental studies, and psychology) and pre-professional courses (education, sociology, and business), students from all disciplines can participate. Some examples of service-learning projects include tutoring, serving meals, walking foster dogs, working in a nursing home, or participating in advocacy work.

The most effective service-learning programs integrate systematic formative and summative evaluation, engage a variety of community partners in communications, knowledge sharing, and goal-setting, and require continuous reflection. These elements can make service-learning a high-impact practice, as identified by Kuh (2013).


Service learning is a high impact pedagogical strategy that integrates community service with specific learning objectives, preparation and reflection. This is a distinct approach from volunteerism and internships where the focus is on fostering education, but may not be based on the needs of the community.

The purpose of service learning is to help students learn the value of working with others and to develop a sense of social responsibility. It also helps them develop a strong relationship with their school and faculty, and allows them to apply their academic skills in the real world.

It can be done in many ways, from building homes for the homeless to working on trails and raising money for environmental restoration projects. The opportunities are limitless.


Service learning is a teaching and learning method that involves students in authentic and meaningful service to the community. It creates connections between the classroom and the community and provides structured time for reflection.

A growing body of research indicates that service learning builds civic skills, improves social behavior, increases youth engagement, strengthens communities and enhances academic achievement. To help instructors build and implement a successful service-learning program, the Center for the Advancement of Practice in Service Learning (CAPSL) offers a heuristic that identifies a sequence of activities for all four constituencies: institution, faculty, students and community.

Students begin the service learning process with investigation, using critical thinking to identify and analyze community needs and assets and student interests, skills and talents. They then prepare for action through service by gaining knowledge and skills aligned with their academic objectives. They communicate their feelings, experiences and learnings before, during and after the action phase.


Service learning is an approach to teaching that integrates a service element into the classroom. It is a teaching methodology that aims to improve students’ overall academic and personal development.

Effective service-learning practices enhance student learning goals by meeting genuine community needs, providing meaningful tasks for students, and engaging them in conversations with community members. They also enhance disciplinary skills, foster communication and collaboration, and provide opportunities for formative and summative assessment.

In addition, a number of studies have demonstrated that service-learning contributes to student and faculty learning outcomes, as well as to student and campus social development. Faculty report enhanced teaching, service, and research opportunities, while academic institutions report improved town/gown relationships.

In addition, some studies indicate that service learning reduces racial and class biases. For example, students with disabilities that participate in a service-learning program have lower reports of out-of-school suspension and rule noncompliance. They also have improved self-worth and interpersonal relations with their peers.

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