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Helpful Definitions and Language

Page history last edited by Andrew 11 years, 11 months ago

Service-Learning | Community-Based Research



Service learning: is a form of experiential education where learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection as students work with others through a process of applying what they are learning to community problems and, at the same time, reflecting upon their experience as they seek to achieve real objectives for the community and deeper understanding and skills for themselves.[1]


The National and Community Service Act of 1990 states that service-learning:

  • promotes learning through active participation in service experiences
  • provides structured time for students to reflect by thinking, discussing and/or writing about their service experience
  • provides an opportunity for students to use skills and knowledge in real-life situations
  • extends learning beyond the classroom into the community
  • fosters a sense of caring for others (“Service Learning Is”)

According to the National Commission on Service Learning, service-learning:

  • Links to academic content and standards
  • Involves young people in helping determine and meet real, defined community needs
  • Is reciprocal in nature, benefiting both the community and the service providers by combining a service experience with a learning experience
  • Can be used in any subject area so long as it is appropriate to learning goal
  • Works at all ages, even among young children

Service-learning is not:

  • An episodic volunteer program
  • An add-on to an existing school or college curriculum
  • Logging a set number of community service hours in order to graduate
  • Compensatory service assigned as a form of punishment by the courts or school administrators
  • Only for high school students
  • One-sided: benefiting only students or only the community. (“Service-Learning Is…”)

How is Service-Learning different from community service, internships, and cooperative education?

  • Service-learning methods and strategies use community service as the valued and tangible vehicle for the attainment of students’ academic goals and objectives.
  • Community service fills a need in the community through volunteer efforts. Service-learning also fills that need, but it uses that need as a foundation to examine ourselves, our society, and our future. Further service-learning provides students with opportunities to use newly acquired skills and knowledge in real-life situations.
  • It identifies in advance, and tracks, specific learning objectives and goals (as well as intangible ones)
  • Students perform a valuable, significant, and necessary service which has real consequence to the community.
  • The goal of the service is to empower students and those being served.
  • The needs of the community dictate the service that is being provided.[2]


Community-based Research

Community-based research (CBR) is a method whereby students learn and develop through performing thoughtfully organized research or academic work that has been identified to meet the needs of an agency or community. Willis et al. identify it as “an intensive form of service-learning...” It helps foster civic responsibility and problem solving; is integrated into and enhances academic curriculum of the students, or the education components of the community service program (e.g. Bonner Program) in which the participants are enrolled. Furthermore, CBR provides structured time for students or participants to reflect on the research and its application and significance for a community.[3]


Example: Course and Project

At the College of New Jersey, students can enroll in a three-quarter sequence of courses introducing them to community-based research and engaging them in year-long projects in serving an identified need of a nonprofit or governmental agency by engaging in relevant academic research or work. For example, one student performed a needs assessment for clients at a local multi-service agency, saving the organization time and money, and helping them shape their programs.



Across the country, service learning is interpreted, defined and described many different ways. Institutions like the University of Pennsylvania (Center for Community Partnerships), Oberlin College and Calvin College utilize the term, “academic service-learning” or “academically based community service”. Others, such as Princeton University (Community Based Learning Initiative) or the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA Community-Based Learning Initiative), prefer to use the term “community-based learning” to encompass service-learning and other forms of experiential learning activities.


Making the Case for Service Learning and CBR:

According to Learn and Serve, “A national study of Learn and Serve America programs suggests that effective service-learning programs improve academic grades, increase attendance in school, and develop personal and social responsibility. Whether the goal is academic improvement, personal development, or both, students learn critical thinking, communication, teamwork, civic responsibility, mathematical reasoning, problem solving, public speaking, vocational skills, computer skills, scientific method, research skills, and analysis.”


Find out more by visiting the Learn & Serve website, part of the Corporation for National Service.


Back to Academic Connections.



  1. Adapted and quoted from Eyler and Giles, 1999 qtd. In “Service-Learning Is…” National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. Corporation for National and Community Service.
  2. Excerpted from “Four Things Faculty Want to Know About!” http://www.fiu.edu~time4chg/Library/fourthings.html
  3. Adapted from Hoy, Ariane. “Making Curricular Linkages to the Bonner Program.” The Bonner Foundation, 2001, 2; and Willis et al. “The Undergraduate Perspective on Community-Based Research.” Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning. Summer 2003, 36.

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