What’s the Difference?

Comparing service-learning to community service, internships, and volunteering

  1. Service-learning uses community service to help students better understand and retain course content by linking service to academic subject matter through critical reflection and appropriate assignments.
  2. Service-learning accounts for both cognitive and affective learning objectives for students.
  3. The service provided by university students through service-learning meets a community need like community service does through volunteering. However, university students are asked to examine that need and to use it as a foundation for investigating society.
  4. Service-learning encourages students to remain connected to the community and to continue service efforts beyond academic service-learning. The process of service-learning connects students to the larger community because they begin to understand and eventually empathize with community members in need.
  5. University students feel connected to a larger community beyond the university setting.

Characteristics of common student community-based experiences

Community Service Enhanced Academic Learning Purposeful Civic Learning Reflection
Volunteering or Community Service Yes No No Not Usually
Co-Curricular Service-Learning Yes Yes Some (it depends) Yes
Academic Service-Learning Yes Yes Yes Yes
Internship Yes* Yes No Yes (in the best models)

*Not all internships involve service to the community
Adapted from: Michigan Journal of Community Service-Learning Course Design Workbook