Service-learning is an educational approach that combines learning objectives with community service in order to provide a pragmatic, progressive learning experience while meeting societal needs. The National Youth Leadership Council defines service learning as "a philosophy, pedagogy, and model for community development that is used as an instructional strategy to meet learning goals and/or content standards."
Community engagement pedagogies, often called “service learning,” are ones that combine learning goals and community service in ways that can enhance both student growth and the common good. In the words of the National Service Learning Clearinghouse, it 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.” Or, to quote Vanderbilt University’s Janet S. Eyler and Dwight E. Giles, Jr., it is:
“a form of experiential education where learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection as students. . . seek to achieve real objectives for the community and deeper understanding and skills for themselves. In the process, students link personal and social development with academic and cognitive development. . . experience enhances understanding; understanding leads to more effective action.”
Service-learning is an approach to teaching and learning in which students use academic knowledge and skills to address genuine community needs.
Picking up trash on a river bank is service.
Studying water samples under a microscope is learning.
When science students collect and analyse water samples, document their results, and present findings to a local pollution control agency – that is service-learning.
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Service learning has the potential to be one of the most powerful ways for a student to understand their purpose. It is a means by which the learner can ‘join the dots’ of a sequence of concepts and take meaningful action or contribute to a wider goal, especially goals that serve a wider community.