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Service learning is a method of teaching that combines classroom instruction with meaningful community service. This form of learning emphasizes critical thinking and personal reflection while encouraging a heightened sense of community, civic engagement, and personal responsibility. The Community Service Act of 1990, which authorized the Learn and Serve America grant program, defines service learning as:

"a method under which students or participants learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized service that is conducted in and meets the needs of a community; is coordinated with an elementary school, secondary school, institution of higher education, or community service program, and with the community; and helps foster civic responsibility; and that is integrated into and enhances the academic curriculum of the students, or the educational components of the community service program in which the participants are enrolled; and provides structured time for the students or participants to reflect on the service experience." [1]

Service learning offers students immediate opportunities to apply classroom learning to support or enhance the work of local agencies that often exist to effect positive change in the community.[2] 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." [3]

"Service learning is a method of instruction in which classroom learning is enriched and applied through service to others” (Florida Department of Education).

Key components[edit]

Service learning combines experiential learning and community service. It can be distinguished in the following ways:

In 2008, the National Youth Leadership Council released the K–12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice that used research in the field to determine eight standards of quality service-learning practice. The standards are:

Further, to distinguish high quality from low quality service-learning experiences, Youth Service California has published the "Seven Elements of High Quality Service Learning" [5] that include:

Origins of Service-Learning[edit]

Two philosophies have been instrumental in the formation of Service-Learning; progressivism and pragmatism. John Dewey and William James popularized these ideas with influence from Socrates, John Locke, Confucius, and many others. Using these philosophies, Service-Learning becomes a practice combined with learning; or learning while practicing.


Progressivism is a philosophy that can be brought into education, politics, etc..., however, this section deals with this philosophy in relation to education. Progressivism in education encourages the students to learn in a hands-on manner. John Dewey observed that most students tend to learn and retain information more effectively when learning this way. He also saw that students became more productive and efficient through this method. Progressivism moves the focus off the subject matter and onto the student.


The word ‘pragmatism’ is originated from the Greek word, ‘pragma,’ which means ‘action.’ Pragmatism connects thoughts or ideas with action. For example, instead of a student merely thinking, “I should go volunteer at the humane society,” pragmatism encourages that student to go out and do it.

Combining these philosophies, Service-Learning becomes a practice. It also encourages students to use their talents, ideas, and gifts to serve, and while performing the service, to learn.

Various Types of Service-Learning Plans[edit]

The Florida Department of Education. Florida Campus Compact. has published Standards for Service-Learning in Florida: A Guide for Creating and Sustaining Quality Practice.[6] which states the four following types of service learning

1. Direct Service Learning:

Person-to-person, face-to-face projects in which service impacts individuals who receive direct help from students (tutoring, work with elderly, oral histories, peer mediation, etc.).

2. Indirect Service Learning:

Projects with benefits to a community as opposed to specific individuals (i.e., environmental, construction, restoration, town histories, food and clothing drives).

3. Advocacy Service Learning:

Working, acting, speaking, writing, teaching, presenting, informing, etc., on projects that encourage action or create awareness on issues of public interest (i.e., promoting reading, safety, care for the environment, local history, violence and drug prevention, disaster preparedness).

4. Research Service Learning:

Surveys, studies, evaluations, experiments, data gathering, interviewing, etc., to find, compile, and report information on topics in the public interest (i.e., energy audits of homes or public buildings, water testing, flora and fauna studies, surveys).

Comprehensive Action Plan for Service Learning (CAPSL) [7][edit]


As Defined by Robert Sigmon, 1994:

In this comparative form, the typology is helpful not only in establishing criteria for distinguishing service-learning from other types of service programs but also in providing a basis for clarifying distinctions among different types of service-oriented experiential education programs (e.g., school volunteer, community service, field education, and internship programs)[8]

Objections to Service Learning[edit]

Although service learning has broad support among contemporary academics, there have been some objections to this approach to education. Towson University Professor John Egger, writing in the Spring 2008 issue of the journal "Academic Questions", argued that service learning does not really teach useful skills or develop cultural knowledge. Instead, Egger maintained, service learning mainly involves the inculcation of communitarian political ideologies.[9] Tulane Professor Carl L. Bankston III has described his own university's policy of mandating service learning as the imposition of intellectual conformity by the university administration on both students and faculty. According to Bankston, by identifying specific types of civic engagement as worthy community service, the university was prescribing social and political perspectives. He argued that this was inconsistent with the idea that individuals in a pluralistic society should choose their own civic commitments and that it was contrary to the ideal of the university as a site for the pursuit of truth through the free exchange of ideas.[10]

Learning in Service-learning[edit]

Experiential and hands-on learning is a major factor of service-learning. As well as the academic benefits, service-learning aims to furnish students with knowledge that will help them better understand the world. Janet Eyler, in the book “Where's the Learning in Service-Learning?”, outlines the different ways student learn through service-learning. First there is interpersonal learning, in which students reevaluate personal values and motivations by channeling a passionate interest to service-learning projects, as well as build a connection and commitment to the community. The second form is academic material that is taught through practical application and reflective instruction, so that it may be practiced outside classrooms and test-taking. On pg 16, Janet Eyler explains, “it is the product of continuous challenge to old conceptions and reflection on new ways to organize information and use the new material.” Thirdly is cognitive development where students are challenged to use critical thinking and problem solving skills in a context that provides additional information and experience for student evaluation, because service-learning deals with numerous problems in complex situations. The fourth form is transformation within the students, which “is about thinking about things in a new way and moving in new direction—creating a new picture without relying on the old lines.” Finally, service-learning focuses on effective citizenship and behavioral issues, and this helps the students better understand social issues relevant to their own community. Learning in all these ways makes service-learning effective to those serving as well as those being served, and “learning begins with the impact service-learning on the personal and interpersonal development of the students.”

What is service learning?[edit]

Service learning is a program that must have a perfect balance between traditional learning and real life serving experience for it to be effective. The goal of this course is to equip you with knowledge that must be used for the required service hours. Unlike other courses, service learning does not just supply you with knowledge that might never be used, it prepares you and shows to you how this knowledge can be used effectively to solve different types of social problems. The importance of service learning is immense as it combines traditional learning and physical action, adding value to each experience while transforming our views of academics and life, in terms of thinking how to apply what is learned in class to real life and enjoy that rather than just studying to pass a test. When this becomes our mindset we develop a new understanding of the learning experience and view it as not a necessary roadblock but as a building block for how it can all be applied. According to the book, 'where's the learning in service learning?','. The popularity of service learning has skyrocketed since 1994 and now has many schools teaching these courses to actively involved students. The outcome and effect of this project is not only for the transformation and good of the student, but the transformation and good of the community that is being served. Transformation in a student is necessary for the actual learning process to take place, and that only happens when you learn to connect your personal, social, and educational lives all together into one learning, changing, and serving life to benefit yourself and others.

Reflection in Service Learning[edit]

Sometimes found in Service-learning programs, reflection is a period of critical thinking performed by the student. For many advocates of the pedagogy, reflection may symbolize the learning that occurs in the student. Janet Eyler and Dwight E. Giles provide an example of this opinion in their book, "Where's the Learning in Service-Learning?" when they state: "learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection, not simply through being able to recount what has been learned through reading and lecture." Also, the National Service Learning Clearinghouse considers reflection to be a "core component" of service-learning.[11]

It is largely during times of reflection that students achieve greater personal development by coming to a better understanding of their own values, opinions, and assumptions. For some students, the period of reflection may even be a time for them to reassess their goals or even their life's direction. For these reasons and others, some higher education programs require a reflection component in their service-learning classes. The University of Minnesota is one such institution that includes required reflection activities with its service learning classes.[12]

Reflection may occur spontaneously, but many service-learning programs include either guidelines or specific requirements for structured reflection. Also, reflection may be done individually or as a group activity. Wartburg College in Indiana published a list of reflection activity suggestions on their website. These included various types of journaling, brainstorming as a group, using quotes, writing essays and papers, structured class discussions, and class presentations among other ideas. [13] However, little research has been conducted to discover the optimum amount or type of reflection activities that would be the greatest benefit for students.

Community-engaged writing[edit]

Community-engaged writing is a method of getting students to write toward and about public problems and issues. A variety of approaches are used by instructors, depending on age group of students and theoretical approach. Two illustrative/related summaries follow.

In “Literacy as Violence Prevention,” Ena Rosen, Associate Director of Need in Deed, describes a specific example of the teaching methods of Need in Deed, a Philadelphia-based education agency. This newsletter article is based on an anecdotal set of reports on an eighth grade teacher’s work with one classroom in 2005. Rosen’s purpose is to promote the effectiveness and work of Need in Deed, and Rosen ultimately shows that this method of working with urban youth is an effective teaching method and social intervention: “Meaningful service that addresses a root cause and meets an authentic community need: the best of service-learning and civic engagement” (Rosen).

In “Rogue Cops and Health Care: What Do We Want from Public Writing?” Susan Wells argues that writing teachers should not merely have students write within classrooms on socially relevant issues, such as gun control. She uses Habermas’s definition of the public sphere to analyze an example of a “citizen” attempting to enter the public sphere through discourse—President Clinton’s speech on health care reform—and ultimately demonstrates the failure of that effort. However, Wells contrasts Clinton’s failed strategies to get health care reform passed with a more local example of a Temple student who successfully entered the public sphere by writing a citizen’s complaint about his arrest and subsequent beating by a Philadelphia police officers. Wells concludes by suggesting four alternatives for writing teachers interested in helping students move their rhetoric into the public sphere: classroom as one type of public sphere itself, analysis of public and academic discourses, writing with and for public/community needs, and analysis of academic discourses as they intervene in the public sphere.

Works cited

Rosen, E. (2006). Literacy as violence prevention. Retrieved March 2, 2011, from Need in Deed: Wells, S. (1996). "Rogue cops and health care: What do we want from public writing?". College Composition and Communication, 47 (3), 325–41.

The Effects of Service Learning[edit]

Based upon various studies, students who participate in Service Learning Courses or Projects seem to encounter a multitude of benefits. The book Where's the Learning in Service-Learning?[14] discusses the effects of Service Learning upon students, as well service learning in general. A study[15] by students from Bates College also reports on the positive outcomes of Service Learning in Education. It should be mentioned that the effects of service learning upon the participants vary based on their participation and their job within the project.

The actual service in service learning obviously impacts the community, but right now, our focus will be the student. According to Where's the Learning in Service-Learning?, most college students who participated in service learning, or "service learners", said that it helped them understand themselves better. These service learners also stated that it contributed to personal development and change. Almost half of them considered spiritual formation an important part of their service learning experience and said that the course helped them satisfy religious convictions. The majority of service learners received self-satisfaction from the act of assisting others in their community. In general, service learners felt more confident in their abilities such as management.

Service Learners retained more of the information they learned in their studies and were provided a sense of engagement not usually found in most classes. Beyond the classroom, service learners felt more attached to and involved in their communities. Because service learning promoted teamwork, participants developed better communication, decision making, and coordinated effort. Service Learning also fostered people's leadership abilities. Most service learners gained practical skills based upon the tasks they had in the course. For example, someone might become a talented carpenter since they built tables in a service learning project. Finally, service learners gained tolerance of people from different backgrounds and better appreciated other cultures.

Service Learning in Language Education[edit]

Service learning can be used in all standard disciplines and recently has been explored for use in improving language instruction. A recent study found that integrating environmental issues with foreign language study provides significant opportunities for students to increase their language proficiency, develop their understanding of concepts related to the environment, and become more involved in a global community through a virtual service learning project.[16] Similar work has found that students can contribute to sustainable development while improving their language skills.[17]

Effect on Engineering Education[edit]

Many engineering educators see service learning as the solution to several prevalent problems in engineering education today. In the past, engineering curriculum has fluctuated between emphasizing engineering science to focusing more on practical aspects of engineering. Today, many engineering educators are concerned their students do not receive enough practical knowledge of engineering and its context. Some speculate that adding context to engineering help to motivate engineering students’ studies and thus improve retention and diversity in engineering schools. Others feel that the teaching styles do not match the learning styles of engineering students.

Many engineering faculty members believe the educational solution lies in taking a more constructivist approach, where students construct knowledge and connections between nodes of knowledge as opposed to passively absorbing knowledge. Educators see service learning as a way to both implement a constructivism in engineering education as well as match the teaching styles to the learning styles of typical engineering students. As a result, many engineering schools have begun to integrate service learning into their curricula and there is now a journal dedicated to service learning in engineering.[18] Recent work has also proposed that the use of open-source appropriate technology could be useful for integrating service learning into the engineering curricula.[19][20]

Supporting programs[edit]

There are a number of substantial national efforts in the United States that promote service learning in its myriad forms. They include the following organizations:

The State Education Agency K–12 Service-Learning Network (SEANet) is a national network of professionals committed to advancing school-based service-learning initiatives in K–12 schools and school districts all across the country ( Our members are directors, coordinators, specialists, or other staff working in a State Education Agency (SEA), or in an organization designated by a State Education Agency, who provide leadership in their respective states for the advancement of school-based service learning. They promote, develop, and expand school-based service learning to K–12 schools and school districts; they provide direct assistance in the form of technical support and professional development opportunities to local school-community partnerships; and they administer and disseminate the annual K–12 school-based state formula grants from Learn and Serve America, the primary federal funding source for service learning.

Learn and Serve America's National Service-Learning Clearinghouse (NSLC) provides the world's largest database of Service-learning materials, electronic resources, and job listings. It supports and encourages service learning throughout the United States, and enables over one million students to contribute to their community while building their academic and civic skills. This organization instills an ethic of lifelong community service; supports and encourages service learning throughout the United States, and enables over one million students to contribute to their community while building their academic and civic skills. By engaging our nation’s young people in service learning, Learn and Serve America instills an ethic of lifelong community service.[21]

National Service-Learning Partnership is a national network of members dedicated to advancing service learning as a core part of every young person's education. Service learning is a teaching method that engages young people in solving problems within their schools and communities as part of their academic studies or other type of intentional learning activity. The Partnership concentrates on strengthening the impact of service-learning on young people's learning and development, especially their academic and civic preparation.

The Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Partnership Foundation fosters academic service learning in higher education with awards and grants to students/faculty and their 501(c)(3) community partners who demonstrate best practices or innovative approaches in the field. These programs can be found at [22] The Carter Academic Service Entrepreneur grant program seeks to motivate students to develop innovative service-learning projects by providing $1,000 grants to the community organization partner of the student with the most innovative proposal in a state-wide or school-wide competition. ServiceBook sponsored and maintained by JRCPF, is the online community for academic service learning. JRCPF programs have been held in 16 U.S. states, India and the United Kingdom.[23][24][25]

The Leadership, Ethics, and Social Action Minor at Indiana University-Bloomington focuses on civic participation, community decision-making, and citizenship skills: how to communicate and organize and lead while serving as a citizen. The LESA program is a chance to develop your own voice and interests while you research, serve, and take action in the community. A student who enjoys thinking and working independently and who would like to develop his or her professional presentation through serving the needs of the community will find opportunities to do so with LESA. Pre-professional students who wish to be involved in a community setting are attracted to the program. Pre-law and pre-med, as well as pre-business, students find opportunities to develop their professional presentation.[26]

A partnership between Youth Service America, America’s Promise Alliance, and State Farm Companies Foundation launched GoToServiceLearning. It is recognized as a resource for teachers seeking to learn how to incorporate service-learning into their lessons. is an interactive Web site housing a database of quality service-learning lesson plans from across the country, all tied to state academic standards.

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 42 U.S. Code 12511
  2. ^ Timothy, D. Knapp; Bradley J.Fisher (2010). "The Effectiveness of Service-Learning: It's not always what you think". Journal of Experiential Education. 3 33: 208–224. 
  3. ^ K–12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice National Youth Leadership Council. Retrieved from [1] on November 11, 2008
  4. ^ Perez, Shivaun, "Assessing Service Learning Using Pragmatic Principles of Education: A Texas Charter School Case Study" (2000). Applied Research Projects. Paper 76. Texas State University.
  5. ^ Youth Community Service
  6. ^ Retrieved from
  7. ^ Robert, G. Bringle; Julie A.Hatcher (March/ April 1996). "Implementing Service Learning in Higher Education". Journal of Higher Education. 2 67. 
  8. ^ Furco, A.(1996) Expanding Boundaries: Serving and Learning, Florida Campus Compact.
  9. ^ *[2] John Egger, “No Service to Learning: ‘Service-Learning’ Reappraised,' "Academic Questions" 21: 183-194
  10. ^ *[3] Carl L. Bankston III, "Modern Orthodoxies"
  11. ^ <>
  12. ^ <>
  13. ^ <>
  14. ^ "Where's the Learning in Service-Learning (Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series): Janet Eyler, Dwight E. Giles Jr., Alexander W. Astin: 9780470907467: Books". Retrieved 2013-12-02. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ Eleanor ter Horst and Joshua M. Pearce, “Foreign Languages and Sustainability: Addressing the Connections, Communities and Comparisons Standards in Higher Education”, Foreign Language Annals 43(3), pp. 365–383 (2010). [4]
  17. ^ Joshua M. Pearce and Eleanor ter Horst, “Overcoming Language Challenges of Open Source Appropriate Technology for Sustainable Development in Africa”, Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa, 11(3) pp.230-245, 2010.
  18. ^ International Journal for Service Learning in Engineering
  19. ^ Joshua M. Pearce, Teaching Science by Encouraging Innovation in Appropriate Technologies for Sustainable Development, Proceedings of the 11th Annual National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance Conference, pp.159-167, 2007.
  20. ^ Joshua M. Pearce, Appropedia as a Tool for Service Learning in Sustainable Development, Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 3(1), pp.47-55, 2009.
  21. ^ Learn and Serve America's National Service-Learning Clearinghouse Official website
  22. ^ Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Partnership Foundation Programs
  23. ^ ServiceBook from the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Partnership Foundation
  24. ^ [5][dead link]
  25. ^ [6][dead link]
  26. ^ The Leadership, Ethics, and Social Action Minor at Indiana University (Bloomington)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

American Service Learning Programs[edit]

Asian Service Learning Programs[edit]

Canadian Service Learning[edit]

Jewish Service Learning[edit]

Service-Learning Curriculum[edit]