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What is Service-Learning?

When searching for definitions of service-learning in the literature or on the web, you will find hundreds of definitions. However, most definitions include many of the same components.

A brief, simple definition of service-learning: “Service, combined with learning, adds value to each and transforms both.” (Honnet & Poulsen, 1989, p.1)

SOURCE's preferred definition of service-learning

From Community-Campus Partnership for Health (CCPH): Service-learning is a structured learning experience that combines community service with preparation and reflection. Students engaged in service-learning provide community service in response to community-identified concerns and learn about the context in which service is provided, the connection between their service and their academic coursework, and their roles as citizens.

Service-learning differs from traditional clinical education in the health professions in that:

(Citation: Seifer SD. (1998). Service-learning: Community-campus partnerships for health professions education. Academic Medicine, 73(3):273-277.)

Important Elements of Service-Learning

From the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse:

Types of Service-Learning

Co-Curricular Service-Learning

Students engage in thoughtfully planned service that meets a community-identified need.  Meaningful, structured reflection on the needs of the community, service and its impact on personal values is an important aspect of cultivating an effective service-learning experience.

Academic Service-Learning

Anchored in a specific course, faculty and students work to meet a community need and advance their understanding of course content.  Structured reflection is integrated into the curriculum to foster connections between their service, the curriculum of the class, and its impact on their personal values and community engagement.

What Service-Learning is NOT

From the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse:


Community-Campus Partnerships for Health

Service Learning.
Honnet, E.P., & Poulsen, S. (1989).  Principles of good practice in combining service and learning.  Wingspread Special Report. 

Racine WI:  The Johnson Foundation.National Service-Learning Clearinghouse.

Service-Learning Is…


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