Service Learning


Service learning is a form of experiential learning, which is a core concept adopted by UniSA in order to increase student engagement. Internationally, service learning is growing in importance as a teaching and learning strategy that integrates application of discipline knowledge in actual community settings. The University has adopted the seminal definition that Service Learning is; 

... a course-based, credit-bearing educational experience in which students (a) participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and (b) reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility (p.112).
Bringle, R. G., & Hatcher, J. A. (1995). A service-learning curriculum for faculty. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning(2), 112-122.

Service learning and the teaching and learning framework

Service learning is a particular application of practice based learning, and valuable for fostering those aspects of the Graduate Qualities that are more about personal attributes and value positions than simply work-related capabilities. In service learning, students use their developing professional knowledge in practical settings that are directed to the support of other people, whether as individuals or in groups. Service learning has a 'public good' dimension. It recognises the orientation to citizenship in the Graduate Qualities and reflects an understanding that the benefits of an individual's education in civilised societies are not simply those of self-interest, but admit an element of mutuality; a recognition that the societal support of higher education for some carries an expectation that the community as a whole will benefit. Service learning thus contributes to the equity mission of the University by acknowledging student work undertaken in relation to the support of others and embeds this orientation to the broader community in teaching approaches. 

The University supports a range of programs that allow students to get recognition for undertaking practical experience in situations that allow them to apply their growing professional understanding for the benefit of others.

Service Learning Characteristics

The University, through its Schools and professions, has a long history of engaging with a wide range of people and organisations in the community. This engagement takes place in many ways. For example, sometimes the engagement is about volunteering, other times it is about students working in their profession in a community organisation while in other situations students remain on campus and the community 'comes to them'. Service Learning can involve the following:

  1. Involves learning in and with the community.  

    • Involvement in the community may take place through either direct or indirect involvement.
    • Direct service learning students work with people. There may or may not be a tangible artefact.
    • Indirect service learning might be about working on a project or to produce a 'thing' identified by both the University and the community. Direct student contact with the community is not possible for some reason but there has been community consultation.  
  2. There is reciprocity built into the relationship in that the community benefits as well as the students.  

    • Activities / objectives need to be identified prior to the commencement of the service learning activity.
    • Service learning activities must directly contribute to and advance students' learning
    • It is not service learning if the university has determined the project and activities without community consultation and support.
    • The university and the community are partners.
    • Meetings between partners occur before the service learning activity and at strategically significant points in time during the service learning activity and after the service learning activity.    
  3. Students are prepared and educated to enable them to appropriately and safely engage in the community.  

    • Safety relates to both our students safety in all respects and the safety of the community.
    • A policy of 'first, do no harm' should be adhered to throughout the activity.
    • Students acquire any pre-requisite knowledge and skills, for example first aid or mandatory notification.
    • The community organisation may be required to provide some form of orientation.  
  4. The activity must enable learning and development that directly and intentionally enhances discipline knowledge and graduate qualities.

    • Service learning should be integrated into and enhance the academic curriculum.
    • Service Learning is not an 'add on'.
    • Credit is earned through evidence of learning achievement not through the length of time spent in the community, although a minimum time commitment (to be decided) in the community is expected. This is about academic rigor.
    • Service Learning activities need to be designed to address one's personal and professional attributes such as empathy, values, professional ethics, beliefs, awareness, self-esteem, self-confidence, social-responsibility, sense of caring for others. It is not reasonable to expect that any single activity would address all of these learning outcomes.  
  5. There must be structured time for reflection built into the course or project requirements.  

    • Reflection is built into the course time allocation.
    • Reflection is a requirement of both the Service Learning activity and the assessment.
    • The reflection activity must relate directly to the Graduate Quality being developed and the outcomes from the Service Learning activity.    
  6. Evaluation MUST include the impact on all stake holders.  

    • It is university policy that a course evaluation is conducted each time the course is conducted.
    • Beyond the policy requirements evaluation must incorporate positive and negative impacts of the community partner.
    • Evaluation ideally should consider the future needs of the community partner and explore possibilities for Service Learning research.

Resources and references

Further assistance

Further assistance with Service learning is available from your