Defining Effective Learning and Service Experiences

Initial Publication Date: November 30, 2010

Service-learning emphasizes the learning, service, and civic engagement components of a course. Preparation requires a clearly articulated set of learning, service and civic engagement goals. The goals chosen will help the instructor identify potential community partners, the type of service experience chosen for your students, and the type of reflective opportunities and assignments appropriate for the course.

Characteristics of Effective Learning Experiences

Achieving effective learning outcomes:
  • begins with clearly established learning goals which identify both the academic content and tasks or competencies that students will be expected to perform upon the completion of the course. Learners should understand what they must do to achieve a specified competency
  • involve formative assessment to enhance student learning throughout the service-learning course. Reflection activities before, during, and after service that emphasize connections between classroom learning and service activities in the community provide opportunities for formative evaluation
  • involve well-defined learning outcomes appropriated for summative assessment of student course content understanding and skills
It is important to share information about the educational requirements of your course with your community partner. This will help identify student service activities that support both the interests of the community and the requirements of your course.

Characteristics of Effective Service Experiences

Designing an effective service experience requires careful thought. Effective service experiences involve:
Learn more about how service learning can be used to connect classroom learning with societal issues (from the InTeGrate project).

  • Dialog between faculty, students and community members. When possible, all participants in the service-learning experience should participate in discussion of community needs and the development, implementation, and evaluation of service project
  • Student preparation for service activities.
    • Students should receive necessary information about the community, its needs, and their community partner before service.
    • Students should be prepared for their service experience which includes an understanding of:
      • service goals
      • their task and role
      • information required to serve
      • awareness of necessary safety precautions
      • an awareness and sensitivity to the people they work with and serve
  • Opportunities for students to develop skills necessary to be a contributing members of their communities . To be effective students need a variety of civic engagement skills. Battistoni (2002) defines the practical skills of engaged citizenship as:
    • Political knowledge and critical thinking skills
    • Communication skills
    • Public problem solving skills
    • Civic judge
    • Civic imagination and creativity
    • Collective action
    • Community/Coalition building
    • Organizational analysis
  • Well-defined and meaningful service activities that are necessary and valued by the community. Service activities should make a difference in the community in measurable ways. Students should be involved in activities that have measurable goals and academic integrity
When developing a service experience it is often helpful to think about either the type of service experience you want for your students, or the type of course you want to design around that experience. Setting goals and identifying expected outcomes is facilitated by considering various Types of Service Projects.