What is Service Learning?

Service learning integrates community service into an academic course. It allows you to understand the relationship between theory and practice by making connections between your community service experience and your course readings, lecture, research, and classroom discussion.

Learning through experience provides richer learning opportunities. It makes courses more relevant and interesting. It often results in increased information retention and higher grades!


There should be no significant difference in workload. Faculty incorporate service learning into the course assignments and seek to balance the workload as they would any other course. This means that both the service learning and non-service learning professors will consider all of the out-of-class work necessary when designing their course. A non-service-learning course may, for example, have reading assignments, weekly quizzes, a mid-term and a final exam, and three research papers. A service-learning course may have reading assignments, 20 hours of service-learning, a mid-term and final exam, two or three short reflection papers, and one research paper.

Service learning and internships are both considered forms of "experiential learning," which is simply, "learning by doing." However, there are some differences.

  • Internships are designed to provide students with practical, hands-on experience in relation to their academic field of study, and are generally career or job-oriented.
  • Service learning is designed as a way to better understand the concepts of a particular course and is not necessarily connected to one's major or chosen career.
  • Internships are generally for 10-20 hours per week, may take place in for-profit, government, or non-profit organizations, and may provide monetary compensation to student interns.
  • Service learning is generally around 20-30 hours per semester (about 1 ½ - 2 hours per week), and focuses on non-profit and/or public (governmental or educational) organizations that meet significant community needs-that focus on public service rather than on profit.
  • Service-learning students do not receive monetary compensation for their time since it is part of an academic class.
  • Internships may provide academic credit, and may require that students attend one or two class meetings per year and turn in a paper, portfolio, or other product of the internship.
  • Service learning is almost always integrated into a regular academic course that requires demonstrating an understanding of course concepts by showing how the service learning experience relates to course content through classroom discussion, reflection journals, papers, and/or exams.

Most faculty have identified specific agencies that have service opportunities that would meet the course learning objectives. Others may provide you with guidelines on the type of community agency or service experience that would be acceptable for the course, with the expectation that you obtain your professor's final approval.

Simply doing service does not mean that you are learning anything. Reflection is a critical component of service-learning. Reflection is taking time to thoughtfully consider the significance of your service experience to your personal growth, its impact on the community, and in your understanding of the course content. Reflection can take place in a number of ways: keeping a journal, classroom discussion, within written assignments, and even using various media (photography, poetry, etc). What is important is that you are thinking about your experience: what you observe, how you feel, how it relates to larger issues, etc.

Service-learning and volunteering are quite different. When you choose to volunteer your time to serve the community, you are not receiving any kind of compensation, and you are not necessarily volunteering for personal gain. With service-learning, you may perform similar activities, but it is with the purpose of specific personal gain (learning) and you receive a type of compensation for that learning (a grade). Service-learning is one type of course assignment that, like other assignments, is designed as a way for you to learn the course content. Your professor may expect students to read textbooks, attend course lectures, do library research, do service-learning, complete group projects, write papers, and take quizzes and exams. Since service-learning is part of the "whole package" of the class, it should be considered in the same way as other course assignments.

There are several ways to identify service learning courses.

  • Download pdf document with recent examples of CSULB Service Learning Courses. This document includes the names of the professors who have taught those courses using service learning. 
  • Contact the professor directly to find out if their class includes service learning.
  • Look for an "S" or "141" notation in the Schedule of Classes, which is often used to identify which sections include service-learning. Be aware though that not all service-learning courses have the designation in the class schedule.
  • Contact the Service Learning Team at the Center for Community Engagement via e-mail at or by phone at 562-985-7131.