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Community Service vs. Service-Learning

The definition of service-learning differs from community service in several ways.  For these reasons, specific definitions of community service and service-learning were developed in co­operation with the Corporation for National Service.  The following definitions were provided to respondents to help clarify the definitions of both terms: 

Community service

Student community service is defined as community service activities that are non-curriculum­based and are recognized by and/or arranged through the school.  The community service: 

  • May be mandatory or voluntary;
  • Generally does not include explicit learning objectives or organized reflection or critical analysis activities; and
  • May include activities that take place off of school grounds or may happen primarily within the school.
  • Community service activities may be carried out as school-wide events, separately organized school programs, or projects conducted by school-sponsored clubs (e.g., Girls/Boys Clubs, Na­tional Honor Society). Examples of service activities could include cleaning up a local park, vis­iting the elderly, or collecting and distributing food to that in need. 


For the purposes of this survey, service-learning is defined as curriculum-based community service that integrates classroom instruction with community service activities.  The service must:

  • Be organized in relation to an academic course or curriculum;
  • Have clearly stated learning objectives;
  • Address real community needs in a sustained manner over a period of time; and
  • Assist students in drawing lessons from the service through regularly scheduled, organized re­flection or critical analysis activities, such as classroom discussions, presentations, or directed writing.
  • Example of service-learning: Students in a middle school science class studying the environ­ment help preserve the natural habitat of animals living at a local lake. Through classroom studies, the students learn about the environment.  The students keep the area around the lake clean, post signs providing information to the public, and study soil and water composition as well as the impact of industrial development on wildlife.  Throughout the project, students write about their experiences in journals and participate in class discussions about the project and its effect on their lives and the local community.