It is a term that most of us are familiar with but it is also one that is hard to find an exact definition for that everyone can agree on. Below are a few definitions that are commonly used in higher education to help us understand the basics of Service-Learning.
"Service-learning 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."
"Service-learning is a credit-bearing, educational experience in which students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility."
-Robert Bringle and Julie Hatcher, "A Service-Learning Curriculum for Faculty." The Michigan Journal of community Service-Learning. Fall 1995. 112-122.
"Service-Learning is engaging students in activities that meet human and community needs defined by the community together with structured reflection intentionally designed to meet student learning outcomes."
Students engage in community service and volunteer opportunities primarily because they want to help an agency in the community or because they need to fulfill a service requirement for clubs and organizations. The benefit to the student is limited to learning how service makes a difference in the lives of the service recipients.
These experiences are indeed extremely important to the learning process and help fulfill requirements for graduation by providing experience in a particular field of study. However, the student typically works in the private sector rather than for a nonprofit and may even be paid for the work. These experiences usually take place without critical reflection to tie together student experience with course material.
The service activities meet community needs and enhance student understanding of course content. Service goals are aligned with learning objectives. The student learns to connect course theory with hands on "real world" experience through reflection activities, journals and class discussion.
[courtesy of the National Youth Leadership Council]
The following definitions were developed to establish a "common language" around Community Engagement at Longwood University. For more additional resources please refer to our tab labeled 'Service-Learning Resources'.