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Service-learning involves three essential elements: service experience, classroom experience, and intentional reflection. Students who take service-learning designated courses participate in community service that relates to their academic coursework. It is an opportunity for students to apply what they have learned in class and to learn from the service experience itself, while at the same time advancing the University's vision of creating a more humane and just world. For example, computer science students could serve at an organization that offers computer access to residents of the Tenderloin. They would be using and developing their computer knowledge and skills; broadening their understanding of poverty, technology, and the digital divide; and providing an important and useful service to the community.

What makes service-learning different?

Service-learning is different from other forms of service in its emphasis on reciprocity and the equal benefits for both students and the community. The terms "community action," "community service," and "volunteering" are usually used more or less interchangeably. They are distinct from service-learning in that the primary focus is on the service being provided, and the primary intended beneficiary is the recipient of the service. Internships are distinct in that they usually focus more on the educational aspect than the service aspect, benefiting the provider of the service the most. Service-learning focuses equally on benefiting the provider and the recipient of the service. If you imagine a spectrum with "service" on one end (volunteerism) and "learning" on the other (internships), service-learning would be exactly in the middle. Service-learning is always connected to an academic course and includes the element of reflection.

Please see "What Makes Service-Learning Different Than Other Forms of Service or Experiential Learning?" by Andrew Furco for a detailed description of these distinctions.

Benefits of Service-Learning

Community Partners

  • Specific products that students produce (for example, resource guides or data analyses)
  • Human capital and personnel cost savings
  • Respect for perspectives and experiences
  • Increase knowledge, creativity, and enthusiasm students contribute to a project
  • Increase visibility and more effectively reach goals
  • Access to people (administrators, staff, faculty) who can serve on boards of community organizations or participate meaningfully on community planning, advocacy and service coalitions, task forces, and collaborations
  • New ideas/approaches to an issue by looking at issues with a different perspective
  • Opportunity to educate students on social justice and community issues
  • Expand resource base and grant opportunities
  • Allows for personal and professional development


  • Enhance learning and connect theory to practice
  • Enhance critical thinking skills as service applies course concepts and theory to real world problem-solving situations
  • Enhance moral/ethical development
  • Increase leadership and conflict resolution skills
  • Explore other majors and career opportunities
  • Foster civic responsibility and encourage life-long commitment to service
  • Gain an understanding of social and political issues facing society and the local community
  • Observe and experience diversity (socio-economic, race, religion etc.)
  • Learn new skills and tools
  • Enhance employability
  • Improve self-efficacy
  • Make a difference in the community!


  • Reinvigorates a course
  • Enhances collaboration and creates active learning
  • Provides research/publishing opportunities
  • Creates relationships in the community; allows for personal community connections to develop
  • Allows for professional development
  • Gives a chance for improved relations with students
  • Strengthen a student's understanding by allowing students to reflect and learn from critical experiences which will bring different perspectives to class discussion, creating the potential for a more engaging and diverse learning environment
  • Apply disciplinary expertise to public domain

Download Benefits of Service-Learning (PDF) .

To learn more about service-learning, please see the following resources:

Learn about the

Learn about the role of Reflection and find reflection resources.
Look at the list of current Service-Learning Courses, along with faculty contact information.
View Sample Projects and Syllabi.
See the service-learning Rights and Responsibilities of students, faculty, and community partners.
Read about Global Service-Learning Programs.
Look through our Service-Learning Database.