Service Learning Definition

Sacred Heart University’s Service Learning Council (SLC) acknowledges the value of all types of service activities, from volunteerism and mission work to internships. The purpose of the SLC is to focus its attention in on Service Learning as a high impact pedagogical strategy. What follows is the SLC’s agreed upon definition of Service Learning. It is intended to be a guide to faculty in designing and re-designing courses using this high impact pedagogy and in no way strives to define or restrict other types of service activities.

Sacred Heart University’s Service Learning Definition includes all of the following:

  • Service learning is both a teaching strategy and philosophy used to develop students into citizens who contribute to their communities and promote social justice (SHU Mission; Speck, 2001).
  • Service learning is integrated into curricula, related to specific learning objectives that are outlined on course syllabi with student assessment and academic credit based on learning outcomes—not on the service.
  • Service learning and the community partners are equal in determining the service learning experience and should be outlined in a plan of mutual benefit to students and the community partner(s) and articulates the needs and expectations of both.
  • Service learning integrates critical reflection that requires students to relate the experience to the course learning objectives and outcomes, social justice, professional values, and students’ personal values and perceptions (Evers, 2010).
  • Service learning is along the continuum of activities that includes volunteerism, community service, mission work, field education, and internships. Service learning is differentiated by its focus and intended beneficiary. Service learning is unique in its mutual benefit to the recipient (community partners) and service provider (students) with an equal focus on service and students’ learning (Furco, 1996).

Furco’s typology. Furco (1996) developed a typology continuum to distinguish among the various forms of service. The degree to which the activity focused on the intended beneficiary and degree to which the activity focused on students’ learning determines its place along the service continuum.  

Recipient                                  BENEFICIARY                        Provider/Student

Service                                          FOCUS                              Student Learning

Volunteerism &










Bibliography and References

Dary, T. (2012, February 28). The academic service learning answer to student engagement.

Dary, T.  (2010, April). Highly quality instruction that transforms: A guide to implementing quality academic service learning. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. 

Furco, A. (1996). Service learning: A balanced approach to experiential education: Service and learning.  Washington DC Corporation for National Service. 2-6.

Speck, B.W. (2001, Summer). New directions for higher education: Developing and implementing service learning programs 2001(114), 3-13. DOI: 10.1002/he.8