What is Community-Based Learning?

Community-Based Service & Learning

Community-Based Learning (CBL) is a teaching strategy that integrates community engagement with academic coursework. CBL promotes students’ academic learning and civic development while simultaneously addressing real world problems, community needs and interests. It is characterized by its emphasis on reciprocity and collaboration with community stakeholders, as well as structured reflection by which learning and meaning is derived from experience. Community-Based Learning can take many forms in various courses, depending on the community needs and course objectives. Common expressions of community-based learning courses include:

    • Service-Learning
    • Civic/Citizenship Education
    • Community-Based Research
    • Community-Based Practicum and Capstone Projects
    • Other forms of civic engagement.

In CBL, learning objectives are directly tied to the engagement experience. Credit is not granted simply for completing hours in the community, but for the learning that takes place. Moreover, community-based learning is not merely” learning that is based in the community,” but rather a learning approach created as a result of community involvement and designed to match community interests. CBL differs from pure volunteerism, community service, or field study experiences alone because it seeks to ground them in theory, integrate them with academic coursework, and balance benefits to the student with benefits to community stakeholders.


Criteria for a Community-Based Learning Course

The following five (5) recommended criteria embody the pedagogy of engagement that distinguish and characterize a course as community-based learning. The CBSL staff provide customized assistance to faculty and also offer mini-grants and other resources to assist faculty in community-engaged teaching and learning. See Options for Support.

  1. Integration of Engagement with Academic Coursework: There is a clear relation of community engagement to course subject matter. Knowledge from the discipline informs the engaged experiences that students will be involved in.
  2. Engagement is Reciprocal with Community: Engagement reflects the concerns and priorities of community members and creates reciprocity with the community, either in the form of direct service, or contributing to longer-term solutions and benefit.
  3. Reflective Practice: Course requirements and syllabus provide a method or methods for students to reflect on what they learned through the engaged experience and how these relate to the subject of the course, as well as students’ sense of civic development and responsibility
  4. Project/Partnership Evaluation: Community impact and reciprocity are evidenced by providing an opportunity for faculty and community partners to evaluate both the engagement project and partnership.
  5. Assessment of Learning Outcomes: The course offers a method to assess the learning derived from the engaged experience, both in terms of academic comprehension as well as students’ civic learning and development.

Course Design and Development

Community-Based Learning is a proven high-impact pedagogy.  Like other teaching strategies, it requires thoughtful implementation to be successful. Significant learning outcomes and authentic reciprocity with community stakeholders are achieved most readily by planning well in advance and using research-based methodologies. It is suggested that faculty begin this process about 2-3 months in advance for best results, and depending on the type of project, more lead time may be beneficial. CBSL Staff are available to provide advice on course design and project development.

Resources for Students

The following two videos were created by students in a Community-Based Learning class to help other students learn about community engagement.

How to add Community-Based Learning to your resume




What is Community-Based Learning?