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: 15 December 2011
  • 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 around 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, general overviews tend to address specific grade spans. The most fruitful one-stop resource for the field is the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, which offers information on a large range of topics related to service learning for all age groups and content areas. The site is sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service and has fact sheets, bibliographies, sample lesson plans, a research hub, and news about events and conferences. For kindergarten through twelfth grade (K–12) educators and partners, there are three other widely used resources, the National Service-Learning Partnership, which also offers resources, guidance, and information to support advocacy for the field; the National Youth Leadership Council, which provides implementation advice, videos, and information about a network of schools engaged in service learning and a national conference devoted to service learning; and Youth Service America, which spotlights programs, implements public mobilization and recognition campaigns, and provides curricula and training materials. 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. 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 eduction sectors, they are presented separately.

  • Campus Compact.

    E-mail Citation »

    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.

  • Corporation for National and Community Service.

    E-mail Citation »

    The website for the Corporation for National and Community Service provides an overview of the service-learning and other programs supported by this federal agency and resources to support grantees, organizations, and individuals in service activities.

  • National Service-Learning Clearinghouse.

    E-mail Citation »

    The National Service-Learning Clearinghouse website offers a range of resources to support all types of service-learning programming, including curriculum resources and other resources for program implementation, bibliographies on a wide variety of service-learning topics, and information about opportunities to connect with other practitioners and researchers.

  • National Service-Learning Partnership.

    E-mail Citation »

    This website provides information for a national network of K–12 service-learning constituencies. The partnership supports members by sharing tools and resources to support best practices, providing updates related to the field, and mobilizing members to promote service learning in various ways.

  • National Youth Leadership Council.

    E-mail Citation »

    The National Youth Leadership Council website provides resources for introducing 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.

  • Youth Service America.

    E-mail Citation »

    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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