Service-Learning: What You Need to Know

Service-learning is a strategic approach in teaching, whereby students are encouraged to utilize their knowledge base to solve current community needs. By synthesizing theory and practice, it provides a meaningful, distinctive, and influential life experience. Students solve problems, develop relationships, and value a sense of community. Service-learning can impact one’s career path and improve civic responsibility. It extends learning beyond the academic term and lays the foundation for continuous growth throughout a student’s academic experience and beyond.

It encompasses practices, theories, and reflection tools to widen critical thinking skills and knowledge for social change. As a result of participating in service-learning activities, students gain in-depth knowledge of the community and themselves when meeting a need in the community and fulfilling degree or classroom requirements. Students in any discipline can take part in service-learning activities. Usually, the courses are most directly tied to social science courses like environmental studies, sociology, etc., and pre-professional courses like social work, education, etc.

Service-learning might be commonly heard related to terms like community development, civic engagement, social change, experiential learning, etc. There’re different types of service-learning activities where students can apply instruction and practice their skills by helping others.

Direct service-learning: This involves face-to-face, person-to-person service projects where the students’ services directly affect individuals who accept the service from them. Some examples include tutoring adults and other students, helping in a homeless shelter, developing life reviews for hospice patients, giving presentations on drug and violence prevention, etc.

Indirect service-learning: Here, students work on community development projects, environmental projects, or broad issues that have clear benefits to the environment or community, but not necessarily to individual people with whom they’re working. Examples include compiling a town history, building low-income housing, restoring housing structures, etc.

Advocacy service-learning: Students educate people about topics of public interest to develop awareness and action on issues that affect the community. Examples include organizing public information campaigns on local needs or topics of interest, helping elected officials to prepare legislation to improve communities, etc.

Research-based service-learning: Students collect and present information on areas of need and interest. Examples include collecting information and creating videos or brochures for government or non-profit agencies, writing guides on available community services and translating them into other languages for new residents, etc.

Most universities and colleges maintain partnerships with governmental agencies, community groups, and service organizations. Students can utilize these resources to get started with service-learning projects.

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