Service-Learning 101

What is service-learning?

Ready to sign up?

What is the difference between service-learning and internships?


I’m still confused.  Can you make it simple?


What is NOT service-learning?

community partners

I’m a student.  Why should I do service-learning?


I’m a member of the faculty.  Why should I use service-learning in my teaching?


I represent a community organization.  Why should I partner with UMKC on service-learning?


I represent a community organization. How do I get started with service-learning?


I’m an alumnus of UMKC.  Why should I participate in service-learning?


I’m an alumnus.  What else do I need to know?



What is service-learning?  

Service-learning is a teaching method which combines community service with academic instruction as it focuses on critical, reflective thinking and civic responsibility. From the assignment of a project that addresses community needs, students learn from community members and develop leadership skills while practicing theoretical knowledge gained in class. 

What is the difference between service-learning and internships?

As a form of experiential education, service-learning shares similarities with internships, field education, practica, and voluntary service. Andrew Furco (University of California Berkley) places these forms of education on a continuum. At one end of the continuum are internships and practica (professional development), with their primary focus on the students' career development. At the other end are volunteer activities, in which the emphasis is on the civic involvement and the services provided to recipients. Furco locates service-learning in the middle of the continuum, and states that it is unique in its "intention to equally benefit the provider and the recipient of the service as well as to ensure equal focus on both the service being provided and the learning that is occurring." 


Service-learning is different from:

  • Community service (Volunteerism), where the primary emphasis is on the service being provided and the primary intended beneficiary is the service recipient. Students benefit by learning how their service makes a difference thus increasing their interest and motivation for civic engagement.

  • Internships provide higher-level students opportunities for service in which they can apply concepts and skills from their major field of study as they may develop a substantial project that benefits the community.

  • Field experiences provide students with co-curricular service opportunities that are related but not fully integrated with their formal academic studies.

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I’m still confused.  Can you make it simple?

Picking up trash by a riverbank is service.

Studying water samples under a microscope is learning.

When students collect and analyze water samples for the local pollution control agency and the agency uses the findings to clean up a river – that is service-learning.


Let’s take, for example, a nonprofit wishing to sponsor a 5K Walk/run as a fundraiser.  The following is an example of how an university might respond to a call from the nonprofit organization for “help” with the event.

Type of Service Student Activity
Community Service Any student / any degree program Running or walking in the race with pledges for distance covered
Serving as race monitors along the course
Internship Business student / MBA or MPA Market analysis/strategic plan to identify an unique, and potentially profitable, fundraiser appropriate to the organization’s mission.
Field Experience Students in nursing or medicine Staffing a medical tent - along with faculty, looking for signs of runners/walkers in need of medical attention
Service-Learning Students in communication or marketing Developing a social network site to generate interest
  Students in graphic design Developing a print media campaign for marketing

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 What is NOT service-learning?

  • An episodic volunteer program;

  • An add-on to an existing college curriculum;

  • Completing minimum service hours in order to graduate;

  • Service assigned as a form of punishment;

  • Only for high school or college students; or

  • One-sided, benefiting only students or only the community.

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I’m a student. Why should I do service-learning?

Often service-learning is a course requirement.  But beyond getting credit for a course, there are real benefits to you as a learner. According to a 1999 national study by Janet Eyler (Vanderbilt University) and Dwight E. Giles (University of Massachusetts-Boston), students participating in service-learning develop:

  • Deeper understanding of subject matter;

  • Deeper understanding of the complexity of social issues;

  • Increased ability to apply material learned in class to real problems;

  • Increased reported learning and motivation to learn;

  • Increased connection to the college experience through closer ties to students and faculty;

  • A reduction of negative stereotypes and an increase in tolerance for diversity;

  • Increased leadership skills; and

  • Increased ability to work with others.


In a 2000 study by Alexander Astin (Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA), et. al., service-learning participation shows significant positive effects in (among other things):

  • Academic performance (GPA, writing skills, critical thinking skills);

  • Values (commitment to activism and to promoting racial understanding);

  • Leadership (leadership activities, self-rated leadership ability, interpersonal skills); and

  • Self-efficacy.

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I’m a member of the faculty. Why should I use service-learning in my teaching?

According to a national survey of faculty by Campus Compact, following are the top reasons (on a 1-to-5 scale) faculty taught a service-learning class:

  • Promote engaged learning (4.42)

  • Develop Critical thinking skills (4.24)

  • Extend diversity (4.10)

  • Development of civic skills (3.99)

  • Encourage social activism (3.81)

  • Responsibility to community (3.81)

  • Facilitate career exploration (3.70)

 Elements of successful service-learning:

  • Extends learning beyond the classroom and into the community through relevant and meaningful service

  • Equally benefits the community, students and faculty

  • Enhances academic learning

  • Includes structured time for reflection

  • Prepares students to participate in their communities

If you are interested in service-learning and would like to know if it might enhance student learning in your course, consider the following questions.

  • Could the class consider issues with broad social implications?

  • Could the theories or concepts that you teach be clarified or better understood through a “real world” application?

  • Are students’ research and perspectives an ongoing part of the course inquiry? 

  • Could your students teach what they have learned to others?

  • Could the skills students learn from your class be used to help people in another setting?

 Important considerations:

  • Fit – is service-learning the route to enhanced student learning for your course

  • Your time – it takes more time to teach a course with a service-learning component, especially at first

  • Flexibility

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I represent a community organization. Why should I partner with UMKC on service-learning?

  • Your organization has the opportunity to expand your reach without substantially increasing costs through new partnerships and resources.

  • Service-learning students bring new energy, ideas, and enthusiasm as well as specialized skills.

  • Increased public support and visibility in the community as students become ambassadors for the organization in their networks.

  • A new generation of caring and experienced citizens, activists, and volunteers is cultivated.

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I represent a community organization. How do I get started with service-learning?

  • Begin with timing — what timetable of planning and projects works for you and with the academic calendar?

  • Identify potential activities students could undertake for the organization

  • Determine the amount of time students will spend on service-learning projects

  • Identify objectives for student learning based on the service-learning

  • Delineate responsibilities for supervising students while at the community organization

  • Discuss the academic calendar and community organization’s timeline

  • Determine how many students your organization can supervise — consider student availability and your organization’s hours of operation

  • Talk about potential risks and how they might be managed

  • Clearly articulate desired outcomes, roles and expectations of each partner --- community organization, faculty and students

  • Identify appropriate contacts and communication modes for keeping partners informed of progress and for handling challenges that may arise

  • Add your information to UMKC Serve 2 Learn

  • Have orientation sessions specific to the service-learning project

  • Keep your Serve 2 Learn page up-to-date!

I’m an alumnus of UMKC. Why should I participate in service-learning?

Many of the reasons that interests a student, a faculty member, or a community partner in service-learning applies to you as an alumnus.  As an alumnus, you understand the interests of the students, support the interests of the faculty, and live the interests of the community partner.  You have the following reasons to consider service-learning:

  • You are committed to developing yourself as a life-long learner.

  • You are committed to helping your alma mater, UMKC.

  • You love the Kansas City area and are committed to helping its families and nonprofit organizations grow stronger.

  • You are in a position to give back to students.

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I'm an alumnus. What else do I need to know?

First of all, congratulations and thank you for your interest.  The hyphen in service-learning is not an accident.  As an active and contributing member of the community, you understand the service part of Service-learning instinctually. But you might be wondering how the learning side of the equation will apply to you. 


We understand alumni to be life-long learners.  We also understand that you are a life-long supporter of the learning process.  Service-learning gives you the chance to guide and witness students as they take advantage of the opportunity to gain insight into challenges facing Kansas City and cultures outside their own.  Service-learning also allows you the same opportunities to learn and grow.  Students will be asked by their faculty to reflect upon their Service-learning experience.  You will be given a chance to reflect and share your insight with the students and faculty as they reflect and share with you.

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