What is the difference between community service and service learning?

Michigan 4-H encourages groups to consider service learning as a process when they are planning their community service projects.


Community service versus service learning. Tomato, "toomaaato" right? Well, not quite. The two service processes are actually quite different. Community service is a wonderful project that many 4-H clubs (and other organizations and individuals) participate in to help churches, individuals, organizations, schools and communities. The goal is to help these groups or people to better their program or life in some way, and we hope the youth providing the service will learn things such as life skills and processes. However, the learning is secondary and unintentional.

Community service volunteering is a fantastic life skill that we should all take the time to learn and grow from. Nevertheless, is there another way which benefits both the youth doing the work and the ones receiving the service in a more educational way?

Service learning is community service on steroids, with intentional learning being the primary goal and the service secondary. Although you may say, “Well it sounds rather rude to put the service second when you are trying to help people,” I guarantee the group being helped will not get less service due to this process, but more.

The youth providing the service come up with a plan in partnership with the ones that will receive the service, take action, reflect back on the event, then celebrate the service. They will learn from the very early stage of generating ideas on how to help, to putting together the process, to performing the task, and then they reflect back to see how they could have improved it. They reflect on areas such as what did they learn, does the group need further help, should they have chosen a different task to be more successful and so forth. Through this process, they may be able to help the group further, or be more educated for the next group they help, but most certainly they will be able to recognize their own personal growth and understanding of the situation due to the project.

Service learning provides tangible results that pleases stakeholders and helps program sustainability and future funding. There are benefits to both forms of service, but service learning provides more bang for your buck and should often be considered as the better choice.

To learn more about service learning, visit the Generator School Network website or contact me, Leadership/ Civic Engagement Team Member, at turnerr@msu.edu.

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