In This Article Service-Learning

  • Introduction
  • Journals and Other Serial Publications
  • Historical Context
  • Approaches for Studying Service-learning
  • Implementation
  • International Practice

Education Service-Learning
Shelley H. Billig, Stephen J. Meyer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0038


Service-learning is variously considered an instructional approach, a philosophy, and a practice that engages people in the provision of community service as a way of acquiring knowledge, skills, or dispositions related to an academic content class or a program. No single definition of the practice is widely shared, though definitions usually share the central concepts of planning and provision of service to meet a genuine community need, an explicit link to academic or learning objectives, inclusion of reflection activities, and some degree of youth voice or participation in decision making centered on the social problem to be addressed. Typical types of service-learning involve projects that address the environment, senior citizens, the homeless, literacy, safety, or any other topic associated with a community need. Service-learning may take place during the kindergarten through twelfth grade school day, after school during clubs sponsored by the school or community members, such as the Lions Club or the YMCA, or as part of a community college or university course. Service-learning may be an individual or group activity and is sometimes connected with a requirement to provide a certain number of hours of service. Service-learning differs from community service in that service-learning requires a connection with learning objectives, whereas community service may be pure volunteerism with no specifically articulated learning goals.

General Overviews

Guidance on how to conduct service-learning is plentiful. Because service-learning can be used from preschool through graduate school, resources tend to address specific grade spans or content areas in higher education. Most of the resources at the K-12 level originate from organizations that serve the field. For example, the National Youth Leadership Council has briefs and videos that show how to plan service-learning and increase its quality. Youth Service America has guides for developing after school programs and service events. At the higher education level, Campus Compact offers information about service-learning and other campus civic engagement activities, including resources for training, implementation, and advocacy. Campus Compact is an organization whose members are represented by college presidents who have committed their institutions to engaging in service-learning and other forms of engaged scholarship. The International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement provides online journals with recent research, theories, and methodologies used to study service-learning, Overviews for the field are also found in multiple books and journal articles. Because these resources tend to be specific to either the K–12 or higher education sectors, they are presented separately.

  • Campus Compact.

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    The Campus Compact website provides resources for colleges and universities to support service-learning and other types of campus-based civic engagement. Resources include training materials to help faculty members integrate community work into their teaching; information about research, scholarships, and other student incentives; and tools for increasing institutional support for service-learning and other forms of community engagement.

  • The International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement (IARSLCE).

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    This Association was founded to nurture more and better research in the field. A book series, later replaced by an online journal, provides the most up-to-date research in the field, along with discussions of application of service-learning at various grade spans and content areas, theoretical foundations, history of the field, and methodological concern.

  • National Youth Leadership Council.

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    The National Youth Leadership Council website provides resources for introducing K-12 service-learning to new audiences, a resource library with project examples and research, access to a network of schools committed to high-quality service-learning, and information about an annual service-learning conference. The site features videos on the K-12 Standards for Service-Learning Quality and information about a network of schools that utilize service-learning as a focus.

  • Youth Service America.

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    The website provides information about Youth Service America’s multiple service-learning programs, campaigns to mobilize the public to engage in service activities, funding and recognition programs, and resources and training resources related to service and service-learning.

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