Service Learning in the Community

Making a Difference in Our World

Service Learning in the Community

According to Vanderbilt University, service learning is defined as:

"A form of experiential education where learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection, as students seek to achieve real objectives for the community and deeper understanding and skills for themselves."

While this definition has meaning, it still seems more complicated than it needs to be. So how about this? In service learning, students learn to tackle real-world problems in their community, while building deeper understanding and skills for themselves.


Service learning, or community service, has been a part of educational systems for years. However, what takes service learning to the next level is when it combines rich academic underpinning, assessment and reflection commonly seen in project-based learning.

What Does Best Practice Service Learning Look Like?


So what exactly does best practice service learning look like? The highly recommended The Complete Guide to Service Learning by Cathryn Berger Kaye is a brilliant resource for those interested in service learning theory and application.

What takes service learning to the next level is when it combines rich academic underpinning, assessment and reflection commonly seen in project-based learning.

Service learning always has the following key components: 

  • Academic Relevance, Rigor & Application

  • Social Analysis and High Level Thinking

  • Youth Initiative, Voice & Choice

  • Authenticated Need

  • Aspects of Social & Emotional Integration

  • Inquiry Based: Purpose & Process

  • 21st Century Skill Integration

  • Observing Change over Time

  • Emphasis of Intrinsic over Extrinsic

  • Reciprocal Relationships

  • Career Ideas

  • Global Connections

  • Reflection

  • Literature

The 5 stages of Service Learning

Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., CBK Associates © 2012

How Do We Connect with Young Changemakers Globally? 


As a challenge to young people around the world and a call to action to generate global change that begins in local communities, Voices of Youth (VOY) has become one of the most influential communities of young people all over the world to drive change forward.


Established in 1995 by UNICEF, VOY is now a vibrant community of youth bloggers from all over the world, offering inspiring, original insight and opinion on a variety of topics. This online community is an excellent place for aspiring changemakers to contribute to the thousands of conversations taking place everyday between the next generation of young leaders worldwide. 

In addition, every two years, a Global Student Leadership Summit (GSLS) is held which is an international, multi-day leadership conference for high school students from around the globe. The next GSLS is scheduled between 19th - 21st April, 2020 in London, Ontario, Canada where over 2,000 student leaders and educators from over 15 countries are expected to connect and inspire global change. 

Events and outreach forums like these provide amazing insights and inspiration to young people and educators alike, and are fantastic places to gather ideas and build connections. This can then inspire and empower youth leaders to grow on a personal level, while maximizing their social impact on the local community. 

If the knowledge and skills developed during service learning are considered to be the ingredients, then the recipe is the 5 stages.


Each of these stages are summarized below from an Asia Society blog post written by Cathryn Berger Kaye in 2013. 

Stage 1 - Investigation: Includes both the inventory of student interest, skills, and talents, and the social analysis of the issue being addressed. This analysis requires gathering information about the identified need through action research including use of varied approaches: media, interviews of experts, survey of varied populations, and direct observation/personal experiences.

Stage 2 - Preparation: Includes the continued acquisition of knowledge that addresses any questions that arise from the investigation; academic content; identification of groups already working towards solutions; organization of a plan with clarification of roles, responsibilities and timelines; and ongoing development of any skills needed to carry the plan successfully to fruition.


Stage 3 - Action: Includes the implementation of the plan that usually takes the form of direct service, indirect service, advocacy, or research. Action is always planned with mutual agreement and respect with partners so this builds understanding and perspective of issues and how other people live.

Stage 4 - Reflection: Reflection is the connector between each stage of service and also summative. Through reflection students consider their thoughts and feelings (cognition and affect) regarding any overarching essential question or inquiry that is a driving force of the total experience. Reflection informs how the process develops, increases self-awareness, assists in developing future plans, and employs varied multiple intelligences.

Stage 5 - Demonstration: Student demonstration captures or contains the totality of the experience including what has been learned, the process of learning, and the service or contribution accomplished. Beginning with investigation, students document all parts of the process, resulting in a complete and comprehensive ability to tell the story of what took place during each stage that includes key informative reflection. Students draw upon their skills and talents in the manner of demonstration, often integrating technology.

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