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Service Learning: Home

Library and information resources about Service Learning

Service Learning, Defined

Drawing of building the framework of a house                 Service Learning, Defined                      graphic of two people with arrows between them

          According to Wikipedia, service learning (or sometime written as service-learning) is an educational approach that combines learning objectives with community service in order to provide a pragmatic, progressive learning experience while meeting societal needs.  This basically means that students use the knowledge they learned in the classroom, apply it to a “real world” situation or problem, gain practical, professional experience in a controlled and structured way, and reflect on they work they have completed.  The National Youth Leadership Council defines service learning as a philosophy, pedagogy, and model for community development that is used as an instructional strategy to meet learning goals and/or content standards.  Service learning projects help students gain professional experience by putting their skills and knowledge to work by helping and building connections in their community.  Service learning has a sense of reciprocity--the college educates the students, the students give their time, knowledge, and hard work to their community, and the community gives back to the people in it.

High Quality Service Learning Components

Chart showing the essential elements of high quality service learning

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Service Learning Helps Students Grow

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Service Learning -- What It Isn't

 Service Learning versus Volunteering   drawing of a confused looking boy with question marks around him

          While some similarities can be drawn between service learning and volunteering, one fundamental difference sets the two terms apart: volunteerism is voluntary.  Service learning is structured and often a required element of a course or program that is designed to benefit students.  Volunteering is often an individual choice, performed on one's own free time, and does not usually have a set structure or a specified outcome.  Service learning usually contains structured assignments and projects at a specific location for a set amount of time.         


Service Learning Graphic

Three Important Components of Service Learning

Boolean graph showing how service learning contains academic material relevant service and reflection

Three integral factors of a successful service learning experience are:

  • Placement quality--the students are challenged, perform a variety of active tasks, contribute to the organization, receive feedback from their supervisors, and feel engaged in their projects
  • Duration--the students spend enough time to develop their skills and see the impact their work has on the organization
  • Reflection--the students think critically of what they have done and how it relates back to class

This " reflection" component can also be realized through a structure written assignment after the project has been completed.