Service Learning & Community Action

What Is Service Learning?


Emerson students clean up a river bank as part of Emerson's Service Learning program.

Academic service learning, like internships, volunteerism, and community service, falls under the umbrella of experientially-based learning, and has its foundations in the works of John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and David Kolb. But service learning is unique in a number of ways. Whereas students can intern or volunteer at both corporate or nonprofit settings, service learning, a form of civic engagement, is always done at a nonprofit organization or school. Interning and volunteering typically benefit the organization and the volunteer, respectively, but through service learning, both server and served are mutual beneficiaries: the student applies information in a real-world context and thus advances her/his/their understanding of issues, and the nonprofit has specific needs met by the student. And only service learning entails a component of reflection that promotes a student’s understanding of and connection to civic responsibility.