Service Learning

905735_10153914615825242_7205983819650627670_o.jpgWhat is Service-learning?
Service-learning is a methodology of teaching that uses meaningful service as a way of helping students learn the academic material and understand the real-world relevancy of the discipline while at the same time meeting a real community need.

There are many definitions of service-learning listed below. If your institution has a definition to add please contact us.


Definitions of Service Learning from Kentucky Compact Members

Berea College
Service-learning is an educational experience based upon a collaborative partnership between college and community. Learning through service enables students to apply academic knowledge and critical thinking skills to meet genuine community needs. Through reflection and assessment, students gain deeper knowledge of course content and the importance of civic engagement. (Definition developed by the Berea College Service-Learning Advisory Committee, March 2004).

Eastern Kentucky University
Service-learning is an academic experiential educational method in which students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and reflects on the service activity in such a way as to:

  • gain further understanding of course content,
  • develop critical thinking skills, and
  • develop an enhanced sense of civic responsibility.

Murray State University
Service learning is a type of experiential learning experience that combines community service with specific learning objectives in a course. It provides a way for students to perform meaningful service to the community while engaging in study that is related to that service. Philosophically, service learning reflects the belief that education should be connected to values, character, and social responsibility.

Northern Kentucky University
Service Learning is a course-based, credit-bearing educational experience in which students:

  • participate in an organized service activity that meets a community need, and
  • reflect on their service activity as a means of gaining a deeper understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, an enhanced sense of appreciation of the discipline, an enhanced sense of civic responsibility, and/or greater interest in and understanding of community life.

(Adapted from Bringle, R. and Hatcher, J. A Service Learning Curriculum for Faculty. The Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Fall 1995, pp 112-122; and Student Action for a Change)

University of Kentucky
Service-learning is both a philosophy of education and a method of teaching that bridges the classroom and the community by engaging learners in the application of theory to service. Students may have a chance to participate in meaningful service and practical learning on an individual basis or through group projects incorporated into UK courses and programs by faculty.

National Definitions of Service-Learning

American Association of Higher Education
"Service-learning means a method under which students learn and develop through thoughtfully organized service that: 1) is conducted in and meets the needs of a community and is coordinated with an institution of higher education and with the community; 2) helps foster civic responsibility; 3) is integrated into and enhances the academic curriculum of students enrolled; and 4) includes structured time for students to reflect on the service experience."

Bringle and Hatcher, 1995
Service-learning is a credit bearing, educational experience in which students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and reflects 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 & Julie Hatcher, "A Service-Learning Curriculum for Faculty", The Michigan Journal of Community Service-Learning Fall 1995, pages 112-122.

Community College National Center for Community Engagement
Service-learning is a teaching method which combines community service with academic instruction as it focuses on critical, reflective thinking and civic responsibility. Service-learning programs involve students in organized community service that addresses local needs, while developing their academic skills, sense of civic responsibility, and commitment to the community.

Corporation for National and Community Service
Service-learning offers a unique opportunity for America's young people — from kindergarten to university students — to get involved with their communities in a tangible way by integrating service projects with classroom learning. Service-learning engages students in the educational process, using what they learn in the classroom to solve real-life problems. Students not only learn about democracy and citizenship, they become actively contributing citizens and community members through the service they perform.

Eyler & Giles, 1999
"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 experiences as they seek to achieve real objectives for the community and deeper understanding and skills for themselves."

Janet Eyler & Dwight Giles (1999) Where's the Learning in Service-Learning? Jossey Bass Publishing, Inc., San Francisco, CA.

National Service Learning Clearinghouse 
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.

National Youth Leadership Council
Service-learning is a teaching method that enriches learning by engaging students in meaningful service to their schools and communities. Young people apply academic skills to solving real-world issues, linking established learning objectives with genuine needs. They lead the process, with adults as partners, applying critical thinking and problem-solving skills to concerns such as hunger, pollution, and diversity.

Community Partnerships
Final report for Community Voices: A California Campus Compact study on partner-ships; M. Sandy, 2007
Final Report for Community Voices - PDF


Sample Syllabi
We are currently compiling a compendium of Kentucky service-learning syllabi. If you would like to share your syllabus, please click here.

Let’s build a bibliography together. Let us know what publications have been helpful to you in your work. Click here to submit. Submit a Publication Form

Service-Learning Syllabus and Project Design
Heffernan, K. (2001). Fundamentals of service-learning course construction (pp. 1-21). Providence, RI: Campus Compact.

Bringle, R. G., & Hatcher, J. A. (1999). Reflection in service-learning: Making meaning of experience. Educational Horizons, Summer 1999, 179-185. Reprinted in Campus Compact’s (2003) Introduction to Service-Learning Toolkit.

Articles and websites
Why service-learning is bad by J. Eby, 1998
Experiential Learning Cycles

National Campus Compact Research Resources

Virginia Commonwealth University has created a series of VCU Service Orientation Videos for students taking service-learning classes that instructors can include as syllabus requirements (we also provide a quiz option). 

There are three short (3- to 4-minute) videos, entitled "Volunteering in Your Community", "Volunteering with Youth" and "Working with Elders" that may be of interest to you. These can be viewed by clicking on the live link above.