Service learning is a work-based learning strategy that combines community service with career and technical learning goals. Students provide volunteer service to public and non-profit agencies, as well as to civic, charitable, and governmental organizations in the local community. There are three types of service learning activities: indirect, direct, and advocacy. Who is served and how the service is rendered distinguish the different types.

Indirect service involves students working behind the scene. Students channel resources to the problem without working directly with a service recipient. Generally, indirect service projects are done by groups and promote teamwork and organization skills. Examples include collecting food for disadvantaged families or landscaping a public park.

Direct service activities require contact with the people being served. They teach students to take responsibility for their actions and provide immediate feedback in the process of service. Students learn that they can make a difference. Examples include reading to small children or working with senior citizens.

Advocacy requires students to use their voices and skills to help eliminate the causes of identified problems. Not only do students work to correct problems, they also make the public aware of problems. Students learn to present their concerns clearly and concisely and to propose feasible solutions. Examples include establishing health care for migrant families or increasing literacy among incarcerated youth.


Through service learning, students can make a difference in their communities, and by making a difference, they grow and learn. They learn best when they apply their knowledge to real tasks. Such application makes the knowledge more valuable and interesting. Service learning balances the student's need to learn with the recipient's need for service. Students benefit by acquiring skills and knowledge. They realize personal satisfaction and learn civic responsibility, while the community benefits by having a local need addressed.

Service learning promotes personal, social, and intellectual development, as well as civic responsibility and career exploration. Its focus on developing human service skills makes it unique from other work-based learning strategies.


Service learning, as a work-based learning experience, does not earn the student course credit. It might be possible to turn the service learning into an internship.


A well-organized service learning activity has four phases: preparation, service, reflection, and celebration. The following are suggestions for initiating those phases.

  1. Determine community needs.
    • Conduct survey.
    • Consult community agency representatives.
    • Read/listen to local media.
  2. Determine student vision.
    • Create personal world visions.
    • Build on student expertise.
    • Create a community/school vision.
    • Set expectations.
  3. Propose the project.
    • Identify and analyze key public issues.
    • Select and plan the project.
    • Collaborate with people in existing programs.
    • Train and orient students and service recipients.
  4. Develop a training plan.
    • Write standards, expectations, and responsibilities.
    • Secure agreements with student, teacher/coordinator, school, service recipient, and parent/guardian.
  5. Carry out the project.
    • Engage the students in a challenging, meaningful experience.
    • Fulfill a real need in the community.
    • Provide adequate supervision and student ownership.
  6. Provide time for reflection.
    • Allow students to think critically about their service experiences.
    • Structure a learning experience of discussion, reading, writing, and/or projects.
  7. Recognize students for their contributions.
    • Provides closure.
    • Demonstrate the value of the service.
    • Celebrate the service through certificates, assemblies, or special media coverage.
    • Ensure the continual involvement of students and clients.