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

Service-Learning Defined

Service-learning is a type of experiential learning that drives students’ academic interests and passions toward addressing real community needs. Through the process, young people are compelled to answer questions such as:

  • What are the true needs in my community?

  • What are the root causes of these needs?

  • How, where, and from whom can I learn more?

  • How can I contribute to a solution?

For example: picking up trash on a river bank (service) + studying water samples under a microscope (learning) = science students collect and analyze water samples, document their results, and present findings to a local pollution control agency (service-learning!)

Service-learning as an Instructional Strategy

Service-learning, as a teaching strategy, involves young people in engaging learning activities while preparing them to be life-long members of a democratic society. For service-learning to be successful, teachers must intentionally design it to meet desired outcomes such as academic, civic, and social emotional.

Service-learning is a proven instructional strategy to engage students in their education when they understand that their service is authentic, has substance over time, and can be understood in the context of academic or civic content. Students lead their experience, problem-solving with peers, and accessing the expertise of adults.

The student service-learning experience is known as IPARD. Youth lead in investigation, planning and preparation, action, reflection, and demonstration of learning. Every part of the process is rich with learning and growth opportunities. Even when the action seems complete, the transformational power of the process continues as students, teachers, and communities identify new needs and opportunities.

Service-learning instructional process

Why Service-Learning?

Service-learning empowers students to be involved in their own learning, to share their voice, and to care about their community. It is a flexible approach, easily adapted to different age levels, community needs, and curricular goals. Service-learning supports hybrid models of learning including online learning. It helps bridge the gulf between online, in-school and afterschool learning. Service-learning allows students to address real world issues, inspiring them to Serve. Learn. Change the world.®

To learn more about quality service-learning implementation, check out the K-12 Service-Learning Standards for quality practice and our robust Resource Library.