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History of Service-Learning

A conference of service-learning "pioneers" held in 1995 (Service-Learning: A Movement's Pioneers Reflect on its Origins, Practice, and the Future, Stanton, Giles, & Cruz: 1995) determined that there were two primary strands that came together in service-learning. A number of proponents saw the practice as a way of addressing issues of social and economic justice. Others saw the practice as a way of transforming our educational institutions. It is safe to say that most of the pioneers were interested in both strands and their common thread: the strengthening of democracy.

The movement grew out of the concerns and activism of the 1960's and early '70's but with some roots that ran deeper into the earliest days of the twentieth century. Educators such as John Dewey and Paulo Freire provided the philosophical underpinnings for educational reform while social activists like Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez provided the inspiration for citizen action.

The pedagogy of service-learning was given a boost in the '70's and early '80's through the work of cognitive psychologists such as Lev Vygotsky and Jerome Bruner. These psychologists pointed out that learning involves the creation of meaning and is highly individualized. Service-learning educators have been able to point out the validity of using out-of-classroom experiences in helping students make meaning of rather abstract theories and concepts.

Beginning in the 1990's, scholars began to conduct research on service-learning as pedagogy. While researchers struggle to design studies that can capture the multifaceted nature of service-learning practice, the over-whelming evidence suggests nevertheless that substantial effects can be derived from well designed service-learning programs. A good starting point for looking at some of the research can be found in Where is the Learning in Service-Learning by Dwight Giles and Janet Eyler (1999). In addition, the annual International Conference on Service-Learning Research provides a forum for researchers to discuss methodological approaches and theoretical frameworks that advance the field of service-learning.

In the following sections we have tried to avoid the hype and fanfare we use when we describe our own efforts at the Joint Educational Project. We have abstracted out what we consider to be the fundamental principles of service-learning in order to help faculty members and others understand concepts at a general level. Service-learning programs across the country have found different ways to implement these principles but we believe any serious service-learning models must give attention to each of these principles.


•    A Working Definition and Model of Service-Learning
•    Designing Service-Learning Courses
•    Informing, Enlisting, Recruiting Students
•    Placing and Preparing Students
•    Potential Problems
•    Reflection
•    Evaluation
•    Student Recognition
•    Other Resources