34 Service-Learning

Teaching Strategies: Service-Learning

Service-learning is a teaching strategy that has two key components: community service and reflection.  These components are tied to instruction through the application of class concepts in service to the community at large.  According to Felten and Clayton (2011), service-learning experiences should:

  • Advance learning goals (academic and civic) and community purposes
  • Involve reciprocal collaboration among students, faculty/staff, community members, community organizations, and educational institutions to fulfill shared objectives and build capacity among all partners
  • Include critical reflection and assessment processes that are intentionally designed and facilitated to produce and document meaningful learning and service outcomes (p. 76)

The “community” served during the process of service-learning projects or efforts can be a campus, a specific group, a town, or a global community.  There are many benefits to service learning for the students, for the faculty, for the campus, and for the community.  Bandy (2014) lists some of the benefits of service-learning for students as:

Learning Outcomes

  • Positive impact on student’s academic learning
  • Improves students’ ability to apply what they have learned in “the real world”
  • Positive impact on academic outcomes such as demonstrated complexity of understanding, problem analysis, problem-solving, critical thinking, and cognitive development
  • Improved ability to understand complexity and ambiguity

Personal Outcomes

  • Greater sense of personal efficacy, personal identity, spiritual growth, and moral development
  • Greater interpersonal development, particularly the ability to work well with others, and build leadership and communication skills

Social Outcomes

  • Reduced stereotypes and greater inter-cultural understanding
  • Improved social responsibility and citizenship skills
  • Greater involvement in community service after graduation

Career Development

  • Connections with professionals and community members for learning and career opportunities
  • Greater academic learning, leadership skills, and personal efficacy can lead to greater opportunity

Relationship with the Institution

  • Stronger relationships with faculty
  • Greater satisfaction with college
  • Improved graduation rates

Employing this strategy can be rewarding but takes careful planning to give your students the tools they need to plan and execute the project – we have created a planning document that walks you through the steps to creating a service-learning project for your course, that can be found here: Service Learning Lesson Plan Template


This section outlines how you might begin to think about adopting the aforementioned teaching strategy and the tools you might consider employing.


Bandy, J. (2014). What is Service Learning or Community Engagement? http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/teaching-through-community-engagement/

Butler, M. (2013). Learning from service-learning. PRIMUS, 23(10), 881-892. doi:10.1080/10511970.2013.775978

Felten, P., & Clayton, P. H. (2011). Service‐learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2011(128), 75-84. doi:10.1002/tl.470


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