Service learning, like apprenticeship and school-to-work, contextualizes student learning. It provides an environment in which students can acquire organizational, team, problem-solving, and other skills, attitudes, and capabilities necessary for future work and learning. This ERIC Digest looks at service learning: what it is and how it supports vocational and career development outcomes.
A Complement to School-to-Work and Other Federal Initiatives
Service learning is a work-based learning experience through which students learn, develop, and apply academic and vocational skills to address the real life needs of their local communities (Briscoe et al. 1996). It is a structured school-based experience of voluntary community service that stresses personal reflection about the service experience, and it is most often sponsored by schools, churches, youth organizations, and other such community groups (Hudson River Center for Program Development 1996).
Service learning has been classified as a form of work-based learning because it provides students with work-like experiences. It differs from school-based learning in that it actively engages students in producing goods or services, not in just learning about work or work-related issues (Hamilton and Hamilton 1997). It differs from school-to-work transition programs in that students receive no financial reward (Silcox 1995). However, because it integrates classroom learning with community service projects, service learning shares a commitment to the same outcomes as school-to-work (National School-to-Work Opportunities Office 1996).
Service learning and school-to-work efforts are both designed to connect students to their communities—service learning through community service and school-to-work, through work force participation. Both promote a learning approach through which students apply academic and vocational skills and knowledge to address real life/work situations, while developing the attitudes, values, and behaviors that will lead them to become informed citizens and productive workers (Briscoe et al. 1996).
Another connecting element between service learning and school-to-work is the belief that students learn best when they are actively engaged in the learning process. This belief reflects the constructivist theory of learning, which contends that knowledge is constructed as people draw upon their prior knowledge and experiences to process, interpret, and negotiate the meaning of new information within the social context of their environments. GOALS 2000: Educate America Act, and the National and Community Service Trust Act are several national initiatives supporting stronger connections between service learning and school-to-work as a strategy for educational reform (Gomez 1996). Curriculum transformation, authentic instruction, new settings for learning (e.g., work site), and the addition of community partners and community development activities are some of the key...