Benefits of Service-Learning

Service Learning

All youth, including those with disabilities can benefit from participation in service-learning.

Service-learning can improve character values and responsible behavior. Students can generalize what they learn from their experiences with service-learning. They learn how to be respectful toward others and towards public property, and develop awareness of healthy life choices. Finally, they learn about cultural diversity and show more tolerance of ethnical diversity (Leming, 2001; Lerner et al., 2008).

Service-learning can improve academic outcomes for students. Students participating in high quality service-learning experiences that are meaningful (including interaction with the community, valued service activities, and relevance to students), provide time for reflection, and last for an extended period of time have been shown to make academic gains including gains on standardized tests (RMC Research Corporation, 2007; Billig & Sandel, 2003; Scales, Blyth, Berkas, & Kielsmeier, 2000; Billig, Root, & Jesse, 2005). In addition, students have shown increased attachment to school, engagement, and motivation (Billig & Sandel, 2003; Scales, Blyth, Berkas, & Kielsmeier, 2000; Billig, Root, & Jesse, 2005). With a sample that included students with mild disabilities, Brill (1994) found similar results for academic improvement and attendance.

Service-learning can promote a sense of connectedness to the school and the community. A sense of connectedness includes

  • feeling valued by community members,
  • feeling responsible for the welfare of the community,
  • having pride in one’s community, and
  • a high tendency to take action for the benefit of the community (Yamauchi, Billig, Meyer, & Hofschire, 2006).

Service-learning can promote social-emotional skills. Researchers have found that there is a statistically significant impact of service-learning programs on multiple outcomes (Deakin Crick et al., 2005; Irby et al., 2001; Lerner et al., 2008; Michelsen et al., 2002) including

  • improved social skills,
  • lower levels of problem and delinquent behavior,
  • better cooperation skills in the classroom,
  • improved psychological well‑being, and
  • a better ability to set goals and adjust behavior to reach these goals.

Frey (2003) found that students with disabilities who participated in a year long service-learning project had lower reports of out-of-school suspension, rule non-compliance, incidents, profanity and obscenity, physical threats and intimidation, and vandalism.  Krajewski and Callahan (1998) also found that participation in service-learning for high school students with moderate to severe disabilities helped to improve students’ sense of self-worth and Brill (1994) found improvements for students with moderate to profound disabilities in socialization skills and their relationships with non-disabled peers.

Service-learning can promote civic participation. Research shows that high quality service-learning programs can promote students’ civic knowledge and commitment to continue contributing to their community and to society as a whole (Zaff & Lerner, 2010).

Benefits to Organizations

Community-based organizations that engage young people in service-learning point to the following kinds of benefits (Chung, 1997, Roehlkepartain, 1995; Naughton, 2000; Melchoir, 1998; reinforced by the general research on the benefits of all types of volunteers identified in Urban Institute, 2004):

  • The opportunity to expand their mission and reach without substantially increasing costs by engaging a cadre of competent, motivated young people who share their time and talents in support of the organization's mission.
  • New energy, ideas, and enthusiasm as well as specialized skills that young people can bring to the organization (such as community skills). Inca Mohamed writes, "Every young person, like every adult, has unique abilities and experience that can expand the capacities and outcomes of [social change] efforts" (Mohamed, 2001, p. 15).
  • Increased public support and visibility in the community as young people become ambassadors for the agency in their schools, homes, and other networks.
  • New partnerships and resources that emerge when agencies for service-learning partnerships with schools, youth development organizations, faith-based organizations, or others that provide service-learning as part of their programming.
  • By working with youth and getting them committed to its mission, an organization cultivates a new generation of volunteers for either their own organization or their broader cause.

Benefits for Service Recipients, Communities, and Society

Beyond the young people the organizations directly involve, community-based service-learning benefits the people served, their communities, and, ultimately, society:

  • It meets real needs and priorities for individuals and communities, as young people bring new energy, capacity, and creative ideas.
  • Community residents have opportunities to build positive relationships with young people.
  • Communities see youth in a different way—as resources, not problems.
  • A new generation of caring and experienced citizens, activists, and volunteers is cultivated (Mohamed & Wheeler, 2001).

This section has been adapted from

View ReferencesReferences

Billig, S. & Sandel, K. (2003). Colorado learn and serve: An evaluation report. Denver, CO: RMC
Research Corporation.

Billig, S., Root, S., & Jesse, D. (2005). The impact of participation in service-learning on high
school students’ civic engagement.
Denver, CO: RMC Research Corporation.

Brill, C. L. (1994). The effects of participation in service-learning on adolescents with disabilities.
Journal of Adolescence, 17, 369–380

Chung, A. N. (1997). Service as a strategy in out-of-school time: A how-to manual. Washington, DC: Corporation for National Service. Retrieved from

Deakin Crick, R., Taylor, M., Tew, M., Samuel, E., Durant, K., & Ritchie, S. (2005). A systematic review of the impact of citizenship education on student learning and achievement. In Research in Education Library. London: EPPI‑Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education.

Frey, L. M. (2003, May/June). Abundant beautification: An effective service-learning project for students with emotional or behavioral disorders. Teaching Exceptional Children, 35(5), 66-75.

Irby, M., Ferber, T., & Pittman, K. (with Tolman, J., & Yohalem, N.). (2001). Youth action: Youth contributing to communities, communities supporting youth. Washington, DC: Forum for Youth Investment.

Krajewski , J., & Callahan, J. (1998). Service-learning: A strategy for vocational training of
young adults with special needs. Journal for Vocational Special Needs Education, 21(1), 34-38.

Leming, J. S. (2001). Integrating a structured ethical reflection curriculum into high school community service experiences: Impact on students’ sociomoral development. Adolescence, 36, 33–45.

Lerner, R.M., Lerner, J.V., Phelps, E., et al. (2008). The positive development of youth technical report. The 4‑H Study of Positive Youth Development: Report of the findings from the first four waves of data collection: 2002–2003, 2003–2004, 2004–2005, and 2005–2006. Medford, MA: Tufts University.

Michelsen, E., Zaff, J. F., & Hair, E. C. (2002). Civic engagement programs and youth development: A synthesis. Washington, DC: Child Trends.

Melchior, A. (1998). National evaluation of Learn and Serve America school and community-based programs: Final report. Washington, DC: Corporation for National and Community Service.

Mohamed, I. A. (2001). Notes from a program officer: The case for youth engagement. In I. Mohamed & W. Wheeler (Eds.), Broadening the bounds of youth development: Youth as engaged citizens. Takoma Park, MD: Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development.

Mohamed, I. A., & Wheeler, W. (Eds.). (2001). Broadening the bounds of youth development: Youth as engaged citizens. Takoma Park, MD: Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development.

Naughton, S. (2000). Youth and communities helping each other: Community-based organizations using service-learning as a strategy during out-of-school time. Washington, DC: Corporation for National Service.

RMC Research Corporation. (2007). Why districts, schools, and classrooms should practice service-learning. Scotts Valley, CA: National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. Retrieved from

Roehlkepartain, E. C. (1995). Everyone wins when youth serve. Washington, DC: Points of Light Foundation.

Roehlkepartain, Eugene C. (2007). Benefits of community-based service-learning. Scotts Valley, CA: National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. Retrieved from

Scales, P. C., Blyth, D. A., Berkas, T. H., & Kielsmeier, J. C. (2000). The effects of service-
earning on middle school students’ social responsibility and academic success. Journal of Early Adolescence, 20 (3), 332-358.

Urban Institute. (2004). Volunteer management capacity in America's charities and congregations: A briefing report. Washington, DC: Author.

Yamauchi, L., Billig, S., Meyer, S., & Hofschire, L. (2006). Student outcomes associated with service-learning in a culturally relevant high school program. Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community, 32(1/2), 149-164.

Zaff, J., & Lerner, R. (2010). Service-learning Promotes positive youth development in high school. Phi Delta Kappan, 91(5), 21-23.


Updated: Tuesday, February 25, 2014