Service Learning & Community Action

What Is Service Learning?


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

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. With internships, the primary beneficiary is the student. In service learning, on the other hand, the service “provider” and “recipient” are mutual beneficiaries. The student increases his/her understanding of academic concepts and develops professional skills, and the organization has a need met by the student.

Service learning typically involves reflecting on one’s experiences, and it is also oriented toward promoting a student’s sense of citizenship and social responsibility. Service learning is always done at a nonprofit organization or school, whereas internships can be done in either corporate or nonprofit settings.

In volunteering, the primary intended beneficiary is the service recipient. In service learning, both the server and served benefit: the student from advancing his/her understanding of issues and theories, and the community organization receiving the service. Students advance their understanding of issues they encounter in the community through course readings, discussion, and reflection on their experiences.