What is Service-Learning?

Brief definitions:

Service-Learning is a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together with structured opportunities intentionally deigned to promote student learning and development.  Reflection and reciprocity are key concepts of student learning. 
The primary intended beneficiaries for this activity are both the recipient of the service and the provider. Providing the service and learning are the primary focus of this academic and civic development activity. Based upon the student’s course of study, the activity will vary; however, the service provided will be integrated with the curriculum in the individual’s discipline.
Service/Volunteerism is an altruistic activity that promotes the quality of life for the intended recipient or group for whom the individual provides service.  The act is a reciprocal process in which the individual serves society and results in an elevated sense of self-worth and appreciation. There is little interaction between the student’s course of study and the service and is often based on the social cause to which the service is tied.

In depth definition:

The concept of service-learning is still relatively new in higher education.  Questions of whether service-learning can be both curricular and co-curricular remain unanswered.  Who and what comprise a community and the distinction between practicum, fieldwork, internship, cooperative learning and service-learning remain a mystery.   Yet, as an eminent health-science and services university we have to make strides in addressing our surrounding community’s problems and meet its needs. 
 
Service-learning is a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together with structured opportunities intentionally designed to promote student learning and development.  Reflection and reciprocity are key concepts of service-learning.1
 
According to Jacoby the hyphen in service-learning symbolizes the connection between service and learning -- where the service is just as important as the learning and vise versa.  The word community refers to the global, national, regional, state and local communities.  The human and community needs mentioned in the definition should be identified and defined by the community.  Reflection is a key element of service-learning.  It is what differentiates service-learning from community service.  
 
Reflection can be done by each participant individually or as part of a group.  It can be oral or written.  In conjunction with a course under the supervision of a professor or as a co-curricular activity delivering feedback directly to the individuals served.  The important part is that reflection takes place and hopefully it prompts the participant to think about the issue in a larger sense and develop ways to best advocate for the community.
 
Equally important in differentiating service-learning from community service is reciprocity between the person providing the service and the person receiving the service.  “All parties in service-learning are learners and help determine what is to be learned.  Both the server and those served teach, and both learn.”2 Quite often in service projects the entity providing the service enters into the situation assuming that they know what those being served need.  They may even attempt to provide services prior to actually asking the needs of the community being served.  This is not service-learning.  Through the reciprocity associated with service-learning students gain a better sense of belonging to that community while community members are empowered to address and advocate for their own needs.
 

1 Jacoby, Barbara and Associates. Service-Learning in Higher Education – Concepts and Practices. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA. 1996. 5

Kendall, J.C. (1990). A resource book for community and public service. (Vol. 1). Raleigh, NC: National Society for Internships and Experiential Education