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 toward public property, and they develop awareness of healthy life choices. Finally, they learn about cultural diversity and show more tolerance of ethnical diversity.1

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.2 In addition, students have shown increased attachment to school, engagement, and motivation.3 With a sample that included students with mild disabilities, Brill4 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.5

Service-learning can promote social-emotional skills. Researchers have found a statistically significant impact of service-learning programs on multiple outcomes,6 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.

Frey7 found that students with disabilities who participated in a yearlong service-learning project had lower reports of out-of-school suspension, rule noncompliance, incidents, profanity and obscenity, physical threats and intimidation, and vandalism. Krajewski and Callahan8 also found that participation in service-learning for high school students with moderate to severe disabilities helped improve students’ sense of self-worth. Brill9 found improvements for students with moderate to profound disabilities in socialization skills and their relationships with nondisabled peers.

Service-learning can promote civic participation. Research has shown 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.10

Benefits to Organizations

Community-based organizations that engage young people in service-learning point to the following kinds of benefits:11

  • 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). “Every young person, like every adult, has unique abilities and experience that can expand the capacities and outcomes of [social change] efforts.”12
  • 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 partner with schools, youth development organizations, faith-based organizations, or others that provide service-learning as part of their programming.
  • Cultivation of a new generation of volunteers by an organization for either itself or its broader cause by working with youth and getting them committed to its mission.

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.13

This section has been adapted from Roehlkepartain, E. C. (2007). Benefits of community-based service-learning. Scotts Valley, CA: National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. Retrieved from
https://www.nationalserviceresources.gov/benefits-community-based-service-learning

1 Leming, 2001; Lerner et al., 2008
2 RMC Research Corporation, 2007; Billig & Sandel, 2003; Scales, Blyth, Berkas, & Kielsmeier, 2000; Billig, Root, & Jesse, 2005
3 Billig & Sandel, 2003; Scales et al., 2000; Billig et al., 2005
4 Brill, 1994
5 Yamauchi, Billig, Meyer, & Hofschire, 2006
6 Deakin Crick et al., 2005; Irby, Ferber, & Pittman, 2001; Lerner et al., 2008; Michelsen, Zaff, & Hair, 2002
7 Frey, 2003
8 Krajewski & Callahan, 1998
9 Brill, 1994
10 Zaff & Lerner, 2010
11 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
12 Mohamed, 2001, p. 15
13 Mohamed & Wheeler, 2001

Updated: Thursday, October 09, 2014