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Service Learning

This guide provides a variety of Service Learning resources for faculty, staff, students, and community members.

About this guide

Partnership for health communities

This guide provides a variety of information and resources related to Service Learning for faculty, staff, students, and community members.  Resources are in various forms, including books, reports, articles, databases and websites.

Contents are organized by pages with topics shown on the left side menu. Clicking on a topic will display specific contents under each page. Ways to get help are in Get Research Help (right side) or Location of these contents may be different on a mobile device.

This page provides information for these questions:

  1. What is Service Learning?
  2. What are the benefits of Service Learning?
  3. What are the challenges for Service Learning?

Other pages provide more resources and also answer these questions:

  1. How to practice and teach Service Learning? (design, implement, assess, participate in, get support or funding)
  2. How and what to research and publish in Service Learning?

The College of Public Health’s Office of Community Engaged Research and Practice (CERP) partnered with Temple University Libraries to create this resource guide.  Please reach out to to learn more about Service Learning and Community Engagement, placement and best practices at the College of Public Health.

For support creating or enhancing Service Learning courses, please submit this CPH form: Service-Learning Support Request.

What is Service Learning?

Service Learning is a concept that has been described in many different ways by scholars, advocates, service providers, funders, and policy makers.  Although worded differently, definitions of service learning share three common elements:  learning, service and community.

Within the context of the university and degree programs, Temple University College of Public Health uses this working definition of Service Learning:

"A course-based, credit-bearing educational experience in which students

(a) participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and

(b) reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility” (Bringle & Hatcher, 1995, p. 112).

This definition is aligned with the statutory definition of service-learning and the often cited definition from the Carnegie Foundation:

"Service learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities."

The Background and Reference page of this guide includes a definition of "community engagement" and a statutory definition of "service learning". The controlled vocabulary for cataloging and indexing sources and related terms are suggested on the Research/Publishing page.

What are the benefits of Service Learning

Benefits to the Student 

1. Academic Achievement and Educational Success: Increased . . .

  • subject matter content learning; satisfaction with school; positive attitudes toward learning
  • school persistence and graduation rates among underrepresented students
  • skills such as writing, time management, and critical thinking

2. Civic Knowledge and Skills: Increased . . .

  • motivation to engage in service, sense of civic responsibility
  • civic efficacy, civic commitment and competence, knowledge about government,
  • civic leadership

3. Personal Development: Increased . . .

  • perseverance with challenging tasks
  • self-esteem, sense of belonging, transcultural self-efficacy, and sense of personal agency
  • ethical decisionmaking, social responsibility, and character development

4. Social and Interpersonal Development: Improved . . .

  • intercultural humility, communication adaptability and competence, and conflict resolution skills
  • relationships with peers
  • relationships with teachers

5. Career Development: More/improved . . .

  • opportunities to explore career options
  • development of career skills (e.g., teamwork, project management, formulation of project plans, interview skills and conflict resolution skills).

Benefits to the Faculty and the University 

  • Enriches and enlivens teaching as students are active participants in learning
  • Creates new areas for faculty research and scholarship
  • Strengthen fieldwork education and partnership with fieldwork and internship preceptors while better serving the needs of the community
  • Demonstrates the civic mission of higher education to local communities and reinforces the value of the scholarship of engagement 

Benefits to the Community

  • The opportunity for community based organizations (CBOs) to expand their mission and reach without substantially increasing costs by engaging competent, motivated students.
  • New energy, ideas, resources, partnerships and enthusiasm as well as specialized skills that students can bring to the CBOs
  • A new generation of better prepared, informed, caring and more experienced professionals, citizens, activists, and volunteers is cultivated

Sources:  Adapted from AmeriCorps (2022) and Roehlkepartain (2007) (cited below).  Additional sources on benefits are listed below and on the Outcome and Impact page of this guide.

What are the challenges for Service Learning?

Some of the challenges to service learning that have been discussed in the literature and by practitioners, along with potential solutions, include:

  1. Students' motivation, knowledge, skills, and preparedness; negative perceptions or misconceptions of service learning and satisfaction
  2. Integration with curriculum, course content and control over student learning
  3. Preparation time and logistics and time constraint for students, faculty and community partners
  4. Appropriate placement and community partner engagement, relationship building, and building trust and mutual benefits/reciprocity
  5. Adequate reflection by faculty, students and community partners
  6. Assessment by faculty and community partners of students' learning and participation and partnership impact
  7. Institutionalizing service learning and insufficient university support
  8. Diversity, inclusion and equity
  9. Funding
  10. Having an impact - social change

Select readings on challenges are included below.  For more information and resources, visit the Practicing Service Learning page of this guide.

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