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

Define Service-Learning

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 is important as a teaching strategy because it involves young people in engaging learning activities while preparing them to be lifelong 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 learning.

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. Service-learning benefits students as they learn to lead their experience, problem-solve with their peers, and access the the expertise of adults.

The student service-learning experience is known as IPARD: investigation, planning and preparation, action, reflection, and demonstration of learning. Students benefit from engaging in the service-learning experience as they lead every part of the process, generating learning and growth opportunities along the way. 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.