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Service learning involves projects which benefit the community and give learners real-world work and life experiences. This type of experiential learning may involve volunteering, community work and internships.

Community-based activities are carried out by learners who have been prepared in the classroom for the activity, to give them opportunities to put their learning into practice by working with the local community to gain wider understanding of the topics being studied and at the same time providing a service to the local community.  

This type of learning will often involve an element of focussed self-reflection by the learner. Not only does this type of learning help to enhance the learner’s understanding of the material being taught, but gives them wider life experiences to help develop soft skills such as problem-solving, stakeholder interaction and communication skills.  

Through this partnership, learners can also gain a deeper understanding of cultural differences, equality and tolerance. 

Best Practice Tips

  • Service learning activities need to be integrated. These activities go beyond simple work experience but should link the classroom learning with benefits for the community in which the activity takes place. 
  • Provide structured opportunities for learners to reflect on their experiences throughout the service learning activity to be beneficial to both the learner and the community partners. This should include not only the subject matter, but beliefs, values and judgements. 
  • Learners should be afforded access to the knowledge and understanding of the partner communities to build upon the classroom learning.  
  • Educational institution and the community partners can build deep relationships over time, which enables current knowledge and understanding to be transferred to the learning institution to help them stay up-to-date. Through lengthy partnerships with multiple learners, community projects can move forward and be regularly reinvigorated. 
  • Encourage students to see this as the first step in life-long learning through community activities. 
  • Set clear academic objectives; service learning should ideally be part of a credit-bearing module. 
  • Verify placements, carefully ensuring that they will be beneficial to the community will and enable the learner to complete the academic learning required as well as support the community. 
  • Consider the length of the placement: short one-off placements are not usually appropriate; regular contact or single lengthy projects, e.g. longer summer placements, are more appropriate. 
  • Before learners go to their placement ensure that both the learner and their community host clearly understand what is expected of both parties. 
  • Prepare the student for the placement by teaching the skills that will be needed, e.g. blogging/journaling, dealing with clients, health and safety, or whatever is appropriate to the placement or reflection activities. If post-placement assessments require an element of written reflection, provide learners with information about what they should consider/read before they go on placement, and anything they should make a note of (in line with GDPR and ethical requirements). 
  • Ensure that the learner is monitored, and any issues are resolved quickly. 

Further Reading

Heffernan, Kerrissa. Service-Learning in Higher Education, National Campus Compact Brown University.

Lee Jerome, Service learning and active citizenship education in England. London Metropolitan University, UK.