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“Service-learning refers to learning that actively involves students in a wide range of experiences, which often benefit others and the community, while also advancing the goals of a given curriculum. Community-based service activities are paired with structured preparation and student reflection. What is unique about service learning is that it offers direct application of theoretical models. Proponents of academic service learning feel that the real-world application of classroom knowledge in a community setting allows students to synthesize course material in more meaningful ways. Common goals achieved by service learning include: gaining a deeper understanding of the course/curricular content, a broader appreciation of the discipline and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility.” (Service learning (University of Washington, Center for teaching and learning, retrieved April 2019)

“Community engagement pedagogies, often called “service learning,” are ones that combine learning goals and community service in ways that can enhance both student growth and the common good. In the words of the National Service Learning Clearinghouse, it is “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.” Or, to quote Vanderbilt University’s Janet S. Eyler (winner of the 2003 Thomas Ehrlich Faculty Award for Service Learning) and Dwight E. Giles, Jr., it is “a form of experiential education where learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection as students. . . seek to achieve real objectives for the community and deeper understanding and skills for themselves. In the process, students link personal and social development with academic and cognitive development. . . experience enhances understanding; understanding leads to more effective action.”” (What is Service Learning or Community Engagement? (Vanderbilt University, retr. April 2019).

According to Morton and Troppe (1996:21), “Service learning is a form of experiential education, deeply rooted in cognitive and developmental psychology, pragmatic philosophy and democratic theory. It shares a common intellectual history with organizational development and participatory action research. Service learning is rooted, as well, in the formal and informal systems humans have developed to care for one another over time, ranging from individual spiritual practices such as charity, to voluntary associations meeting community needs, to human services institutions and welfare systems.”

According to Wikipedia (retr. May 2019), 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.

Morton and Troppe (1996:21-22) refer to Kolb's experiential learning theory, but point out the experience as foundation for learning has much older roots. “service learning theory begins with the assumption that experience is the foundation for learning; and various forms of community service are employed as the experiential basis for learning. These ideas are not new, and can be traced back at least to John Dewey and Jane Addams, who advocated for similar ideas beginning in the 1890s.”

Service learning does not seem to be very popular because it requires the high investment required for project-based learning plus time needed to interact with a community. “Service learning is relatively uncommon, we argue, because of the general absence of institutional commitment to service learning by colleges and universities. Service learning is a relationship- and time-intensive pedagogy for both students and faculty. A sociology professor, in a recent interview, commented that his service learning course was "a peak teaching and learning experience for me and the students that had some positive impact on the community. But", he continued, "I don't know if I'll do it again soon". He was hesitant, he said, because service learning took more time than other forms of teaching and it was time away from his personal research and publishing.” (Morton and Troppe (1996:23).

See also:

Learning design models

Educational models for service-learning are project-oriented learning and community focused. The service-learning web page at University of Washington identifies six qualities of service learning, that we summarize below with slightly modified quotes:

  • Integrative: integrates class learning objectives, faculty guidance, as well as community perspective and priorities.
  • Reflective: provide ‘structured opportunities’ for learners to critically reflect upon their service experience.
  • Contextualized: connect the knowledge of a discipline, as explored in class, to the knowledge in practice, as evidenced in communities.
  • Strength-Based: focuses on the capacity and expertise that exist in every community, rather than on what is absent.
  • Reciprocal: Students give time, talent and intellectual capital in order to gain deeper understanding, community members and organizations invest time as co-educators and in turn accomplish more toward their mission.
  • Lifelong: provides a distinctive, meaningful and influential life experience beyound the academic term.

To make this happen, an appropriate pedagogy has to be put in place. CAPSL, as introduced below, is an example.


Bringle and Hatcher (1996) published a Comprehensive Action Plan for Service Learning (CAPSL):

Following initial planning, activities need to increase awareness within each constituency concerning the general nature of service learning. This educational process is helped by having at least one concrete example or prototype course available. An office of service learning can then expand the development of service learning by gathering resources and designing activities for each constituency. The office also needs to document the implementation of service learning (monitoring) and the outcomes of service learning (evaluation). The results of all these efforts should be recognized publicly in the media and through scholarship and research published in professional journals. Finally, evidence of growth and maturity will be reflected in the degree to which service learning becomes institutionalized

. According to the authors, this pattern is a heuristic and will seldom be linear.

“The Comprehensive Action Plan for Service Learning (CAPSL) provides a heuristic for guiding the development of a service learning program in higher. education. It does so by concentrating efforts on four constituencies that must be considered in implementing a service learning program and by providing a means for developing strategic plans that address each constituency. In addition, CAPSL provides a means for assessing) for each constituency, the developmental status of a service learning program. Although this agenda may appear daunting, assembling a team from the constituencies and prioritizing objectives can make the work more manageable.” Bringle and Hatcher (1996)

The following table summarizes the overall CAPSL strategy and includes sample activities outlined by the authors in the Bringle and Hatcher (1996) [1] article. Repeat: We did not completely fill in the cells. Please consult the original article.

Comprehensive Action Plan for Service Learning (CAPSL)
Institution Faculty Students Community
Planning • Form a planning group of key persons

• Survey institutional resources and climate

• Attend Campus Compact Regional Institute

• Develop a Campus Action Plan for service learning

• Form an advisory committee

• Survey existing university/ community partnerships

• Identify community representatives for service learning

planning group and advisory committee

Awareness • Inform key administrators and faculty groups about service

learning and program development

• Join national organizations (e.g., Campus Compact, National

Society for Experiential Education, Partnership for


• Attend service learning conferences

Prototype • Identify and consult with exemplary programs in higher


Resources • Obtain administrative commitments for an Office of Service

Learning (e.g., budget, office space, personnel)

• Develop a means for coordinating service learning with other

programs on campus (e.g., student support services, faculty


• Apply for grants

Expansion • Offer faculty development workshops

• Arrange one-on-one consultations

• Discuss service learning with departments and schools

• Provide course development stipends and grants to support service


• Focus efforts on underrepresented schools

• Develop faculty mentoring program

• Promote development of general education, sequential, and

interdisciplinary service learning courses

• Initiate community workshops and discussions on service


• Increase involvement of agency personnel in course design and

universitylevel service learning activities

• Explore new service learning opportunities

• Collaborate with community agencies on programming, grant

proposals, and conferences

Recognition • Publicize faculty accomplishments

• Include service learning activities on faculty Annual Report forms

• Involve faculty in professional activities (e.g., publications,

workshops, conferences, forums)

• Publicize recipients of the faculty service award

• Publicize recipients of student scholarships that recognize


• Write letters of recommendation for students involved in


• Nominate students for local, regional, and national

recognitions and awards

• Create co-curricular transcript

Monitoring • Collect data on student involvement (e.g., enrollment,

withdrawal rates)

Evaluation • Evaluate service learning courses (e.g., student satisfaction,

learning outcomes, retention)

Research • Conduct research on student service learning experiences

• Promote student involvement in action research

Institutionalization • Consistently high enrollment in service learning courses

• Widespread use of 4th credit option

• Service learning is part of student culture


Thoms and Erylmaz (2018) describe the implementation of an applied computer science class, using the ELGG platform.

“A pedagogical approach grounded in active learning and one that aims to provide students with meaningful learning experiences is service-learning. As explored in [3], service- learning is a high-impact educational practice that provides students direct experiences with discipline specific concepts and with ongoing efforts to analyze and solve problems within the broader community. Pedagogically, service-learning begins with the assumption that experience is the foundation for learning and considers community service as an experiential basis for such learning (Morton and Troppe, 1996)” (Thoms and Erylmaz, 2018:497)

“While often above and beyond the demands of traditional classes, students are challenged with real-world problems and needs and are required to collaborate with classmates and partner organizations. These partnerships often result in rich relationships with community organizations. In reflective essays at the end of the semester, students indicated a strong bond with partners. [..] From the perspective of the computing field, interdisciplinary, service-learning courses present students with a perspective to organizational problem solving that they would rarely, if ever, experience in other courses. More so, many students did not realize the scope of the computing field and how it requires thinking and strategies from numerous disciplines to help solve real-world organizational problems.” (Thoms and Erylmaz, 2018:502)


Any kind of open and flexible platform could be used, e.g. a wiki, a social platform like ELGG, or a social project management system.

The exist specialized software, that seem to offer tailored management functionality such as:

  • Manage students that volonteer, sign up, assign jobs
  • Manage community partner applications
  • Attendance and hours tracking and reporting
  • Project and tasks tracking
  • Plugin / interaction with LMSs

List of software (randomly picked, not evaluated so far):

  • Campus connect, Quote: “A web-based, mobile-friendly solution that will enable your campus to pair students, faculty, and staff with meaningful, local service opportunities that can be bundled with a service learning module to administer students.” (Retr. April 2019).
  • GivePulse, Quote: “Professors, teachers, educators, staff and centers work with us to streamline the logistics of managing community partnerships and tracking of engagement for students in service learning courses” (Retr. April 2019).
  • Onvolounteers, “OnVolunteers Student Service is specifically for High Schools and Colleges to automate Community service programs” (Retr. April 2019).




  • Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning. Quote: MJCSL is an open-access journal focusing on research, theory, pedagogy, and other matters related to academic service-learning, campus-community partnerships, and engaged/public scholarship in higher education.


Cited with footnotes

  1. Robert, G. Bringle; Julie A. Hatcher (March–April 1996). "Implementing Service Learning in Higher Education", Journal of Higher Education. 67 (2). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-01-18:


  • Boss, Judith: 1994, 'The Effect of Community Service Work on the Moral Development of College Ethics Students', Journal of Moral Education 23(2), 183-197.
  • Cohen, Jeremy and Dennis Kinsey: 1994, ‘“Doing Good” and Scholarship: A Service Learning Study’, Journalism Educator 48(4), 4–14.
  • Eyler, J. & Giles, D.E. (1999). Where’s the learning inservice-learning?San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Knapp, Timothy D.; Bradley J. Fisher (2010). "The Effectiveness of Service-Learning: It's not always what you think". Journal of Experiential Education. 33 (3): 208–224. doi:10.5193/JEE33.3.208.
  • Kuh, GD. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
  • Markus, Gregory, Jeffrey P. E Howard, and David C. King: '1993, 'Integrating Community Service and Classroom Instruction Enhances Learning: Results from an Experiment', Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 15(4), 410-419.
  • Morton, K., Troppe, M. (1996). “From the Margin to the mainstream: Campus compact's project on integrating service with academic study,” Journal of Business Ethics, 15(1).
  • Stanton, T.K., Giles, D.E., & Cruz, N.I. (1999). Service-learning : A movement’s pioneers reflect on its origins,practice,and future. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Thoms, B., Eryilmaz, E. (2014). “How Media Choice Affects Learner Interactions in Distance Learning Classes,” Computers & Education, v75.
  • Vernon, Andrea; Ward, Kelly (1999). "Campus and Community Partnerships: Assessing Impacts and Strengthening Connections". Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning. 6 (1).
  • Westheimer, J., & Kahne, J. (2003). Political choices andeducational goals. Campus Compact Reader: Service-learning and civic educatio. Winter 2003.