By Amy Meuers, NYLC CEO


Service-learning – such a simple term, yet so many people are confused by what it actually is. I like to start with what service-learning isn’t. It isn’t service during school hours. You know what I’m talking about. Those required hours that many students wait until the last semester of school to fulfill and then frantically try to find any place that will allow them to volunteer so they can check the box that they completed their time.

What is Service-Learning

Don’t get me wrong, a service requirement can lead to positive results for some young people, but most of the time it isn’t an impactful service-learning experience. Service-learning is a learning experience first and a service experience second. NYLC defines service-learning as:

an approach to teaching and learning in which students use academic and civic knowledge and skills to address genuine community needs. 

An educator writing on a white board as she engages in the service-learning process

The role of the educator in service-learning is vital to the success of the student experience. Without proper planning, student outcomes happen by chance rather than as intended by the instructional leader. The outcomes for service-learning are vast: academic, social emotional learning, civic, career readiness, cross-sector competencies…the list goes on. However, to achieve positive outcomes, outcomes must be identified before the service-learning experience starts. Additionally, service-learning best practices mean educators must define how they will measure student outcomes for learning and plan the service-learning experience accordingly. (Search for ‘Service-Learning by Design’ in the NYLC Resource Library for more info!)

The Student Service-Learning Experience: the IPARD Process

The IPARD process (Investigation, Planning & Preparation, Action, Reflection, and Demonstration) is the student experience of service-learning. It is through this process that students have the opportunity to develop new knowledge and skills. For example, during investigation students can develop media literacy skills, deepen their knowledge around a specific topic like economics or history, conduct research, the list goes on. Once the investigation stage is complete, students plan and prepare for the action they are going to take. They build financial literacy, project planning skills, teamwork, & communication all while preparing for their actual service project. Throughout the entire process, students are reflecting, which helps their understanding of themselves and the world around them. During the demonstration stage, students are sharing their learning experiences with others which then deepens their own learning.

Two students are demonstrating their service-learning experience. One is holding a microphone while another holds up a poster with information written on it.

Throughout the experience, students are contributing to the world which helps them see themselves as someone who can give, lead, and help others no matter their background or their abilities. Their learning isn’t confined to the classroom, but, instead, extends into the community. 

Service-learning is real-world learning that supports students to be civically informed and engaged citizens who care deeply about the world around them!

One Comment

  1. Joe Nathan July 6, 2023 at 6:31 am - Reply

    Superb essay. Thanks so much for writing this and for your ongoing, excellent work with young people and adults

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