Service Learning Definitions

How 15 US Institutions Define Service Learning

Posted in Blog on 11 August 2016

Education has always been about imparting knowledge for a person to be able to make a living for themselves. The focus is always on the individual rather than society.

In service learning however, the emphasis is on applying what is learned in the classroom while providing meaningful service to society.

The dual advantage is that students comprehend “how is what I’m learning applicable in the real world” while their community in turn benefits from the service learning activity. But this understanding of service learning varies as we move from schools to colleges and across subjects as well.

Let’s look at some of the ways leading US institutions have defined service learning:


Chicago Public Schools

Chicago Public School defines service learning as a strategy that connects classroom curriculum with service projects. Service learning is a strategy, not an outcome that develops skills such as collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.


University of Maryland

The STAMP Division of Student Learning at the University of Maryland believes that service learning should combine community service with structured learning. According to STAMP service learning should engage students in active learning and achieve learning goals.


California State University

The California State University has divided service learning into three components: Course concepts, service projects, and student reflection. The outcome of these service learning experiences should be an enrichment of the learning experience, teaching civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.


The Centre for Teaching and Faculty Development

The Centre for Teaching and Faculty Development believes that service learning immerses students in real life interventions, where they provide tangible services to others and their assessment is an indicator of personal, professional, and academic growth.


Colorado State

Writing@CSU has defined service learning as something that occurs when there is a balance between learning goals and service outcomes. They have divided service learning into three parts. Classroom preparation through explanation and analysis of theories and ideas, an activity that emerges from and informs classroom context, and a structured reflection combing service experience and learning goals.


The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC)

According to The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) report “Service-Learning and Community Colleges: Where We Are” service learning is a teaching and learning experience for everyone who takes part in a service-learning program. The response and reflection of participating students, faculty, and community members form their individual definitions. That will be the touchstone for the enduring meaning of service-learning in education.


National Youth Leadership Council, Minnesota

The National Youth Leadership Council has defined 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.” According to their website successful service-learning projects are tied closely to specific learning objectives, and many of the best are tied to numerous areas of study.


Drake University, Iowa

At Drake University service learning is referred to as community engagement. Service learning is a partnership between college, university, public and private sector to enrich scholarship and research, prepare educated and engaged citizens, strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility, address critical societal issues and contribute to the public good.


Michigan State University

Michigan State University has also divided service learning into 3 types. Academic service learning which combines community service with academic instructions and focuses on critical thinking and civic responsibility. Curricular service learning which is service learning related to a particular field of study. And finally, co-curricular service learning involved opportunities to volunteer in areas unrelated to courses or academic majors.


University of Houston

According to University of Houston “Service learning aims to connect the personal and intellectual to help students acquire knowledge and a useful understanding of the world, build critical thinking capacities, and perhaps lead to fundamental questions about learning and about society and to a commitment to improve both.”


Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

The Michigan Journal of Community service learning believes that service learning is a way for campuses to strengthen their public service missions, and create successful collaborations between campuses and communities that achieve the goals of all the parties involved.


Institute for Civic and Community Engagement

Service learning is a credit bearing educational experience. The institute for Civic and Community Engagement emphasizes that in order for service learning to take place there must be reflection. A structured reflection should take place to help the students understand how their activities link with academic and civic learning objectives.


San Francisco State University

The San Francisco State University has defined service learning as a combination of academic study and community service such that both are enhanced by the experience. Service learning enhances academic learning by allowing students to connect academic study and its applications, clarify their career goals, acquire work skills, develop civic, moral, and ethical responsibility, and provide value to the community.


Fresno California State University

The California State University of Fresno defines service learning as a method where students learn by participating in activities that address community needs. These needs include direct service to people in need, improvement of community resources, applied research, community outreach and education.


Fayetteville State University

According to Fayetteville State University service learning is an experiential form of learning with facilitated means for applying the experience to a student’s academic and personal development. Service learning should be able to address real needs in the community.

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