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Jan and Bud Richter Center

Defining Service-Learning

There are many definitions of service-learning, but most focus on very similar fundamentals.  The Service-Learning Development Committee at California State University, Fresno adopted the following definition for use on our campus in 2009.

Service-learning is a method where students learn by active participation in organized service that addresses community needs and is linked to academic study through structured reflection.  The community needs may include direct service to people in need, improvement of community resources, applied research, community outreach and education, or policy analysis and advocacy.  The academic study may be in any discipline or combination of fields.  

Continuum of Service Types

Volunteerism - Community Service - Service-Learning - Field Education - Internships

  1. Volunteerism: Emphasis and beneficiary the receiver. Own free will without pay.
  2. Community Service: Primary focus is on the receiver of the service and seeing the difference the service makes.
  3. Service-Learning: Equally benefit and equal focus. Within academic course context.
  4. Field Education: Co-Curricular related but not fully integrated, Maximize student learning.
  5. Internship: Hands-on development of skills and knowledge for a particular area where the student is the primary focus.


This term is typically used to describe people, who of their own free will and without pay, perform some service or do good work. This can be done on a regular or sporadic basis with community groups, faith organizations, schools, or other organizations

Community Service

Strictly defined community service simply means organized volunteering which meets the needs of the community and is most often done through non-profit organizations, schools, and public agencies. Often, community service is court ordered and emanates a negative connotation towards participating in community service.


An internship or practicum experience is usually a capstone experience in which the student implements material covered from a series of classes into the field. This experience normally requires no weekly reflection of the student, yet requires this student to cumulate the semester with a project or research paper about the internship/practicum experience

Field Work

The fieldwork is also a capstone experience in which a supervised clinical experience connected to a certificate or credential program, such as nursing, is required.

Community Service-Learning

Community-Service Learning is an academic study linked to community service through structured reflection so that each reinforces the other. The academic study may be in any discipline or combination of fields. The community service may be direct service to people in need, community outreach and education, or policy analysis.

See Also

Service-Learning: A Balanced Approach to Experiential Education by Andrew Furco