Changing the World Through Service-based Learning

October 22, 2018

You Are What You Do

“How wonderful it is that no one need wait a single moment before starting to change the world.” - Anne Frank

How can we help our students change the world for the better?

Serviced-Based Learning (SBL) emphasizes the application of classroom knowledge in real-world context. Service-learning programs provide an exceptional opportunity for the curriculum to meet community needs as students reach out and aid the community with volunteer service. This is real-world application of theoretical material.

Academic Goals and Community Service

By pairing academic learning goals with the community and civic engagement we can:

  • Enhance student growth and self-confidence
  • Provide a rich learning experience in a real-world context
  • Instill a sense of civic responsibility
  • Deepen instruction and action with reflection

Getting our students familiar with these life skills requires a change in every educator’s priorities and paradigm. In order to teach these tools, many schools and universities are changing their goals for student learning; while students are still expected to know the established curriculum, the way in which we implement said curriculum is evolving.

Roots of Service-Based Learning

SBL is based on the philosophy of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire and American educator John Dewey. In his “The ‘Banking’ Concept of Education” from his text The Pedagogy of Oppression, Freire advocates for “problem-posing education” as he posits that “education is suffering from narration sickness” (Freire). Problem-posing and solving are his answer to "banking education". Though important for an elementary foundation, banking ‘fills receptacles’ rather than challenging students. Concerning the teacher-student relationship Freire writes:

“Once again, the two educational concepts and practices under analysis come into conflict...Banking education treats students as objects of assistance; problem-posing education makes them critical thinkers” (Freire, 357).

Similarly, education reformer, John Dewey advocates for classroom democracy. We may know democracy to mean, “of the people, by the people, for the people” and Dewey encourages such participation in the classroom: education ‘of the students by the students for the students’.

Problem Solving in Service-Based Learning:

  • Establishes an equal exchange between teacher and student
  • Asks for inferences
  • Encourages investment and individuality
  • Collaboration

We can apply these principles so that our students take the lead in their education, thereby fostering investment and lifelong learning.


The essential tools for SBL are:

  • Critical thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Experience
  • Reflection

For students: it gives them the opportunity to gain knowledge, research skills, and experience while working to achieve real community objectives. The experience gained also nicely rounds out their resume. They can very easily add this experience to their AIMEE Bio!

For educators: it takes teaching to the next level, allowing for better academic knowledge transfer, better assessment, and more meaningful reflection cycles with students, also present in project-based learning[b]. It also pushes teachers own learning and self-development.

For schools: it raises their visibility and reputation in the community. Service-learning supports the civic engagement mission of educational institutions at all levels, offering students the exposure and unique experience needed to get noticed during the college admissions process.

For community: SBL can benefit entire schools and their local communities as it asks students to take responsibility for their surrounding environment.

Forward-thinking SBL:

Implementation of SBL can be achieved with adjustments to curriculum and partnerships with community members. Illinois Center for Teaching and Learning suggests that SBL be implemented in the following ways:

  • Service-learning courses: Students relate community-based service experience to course objectives using structured reflection and learning activities in a regular academic course.
  • University-community partnerships: These partnerships are ongoing relationships between the university (department or faculty) and community partners in which students are involved in community needs-based service.
  • Internship, practicum, or field experience: Students are placed in selected service sites where they work individually. They apply their knowledge and skills to complete their service hours.

Our future is our young people...

To this end, service-based learning (SBL) is highly valued and is becoming more and more common in schools. SBL promotes authentic engagement and helps instill a passion for lifelong learning in students. We must prepare each of our youth to meet the challenges of a future that we cannot fully imagine. Students today will be faced with many tough decisions tomorrow. Together, we must make sure they have the knowledge, compassion, and real-world experiences to tackle them -- and succeed.

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