What is Community-Based Learning?

Bridging Theory and Practice

Community-Based Learning (CBL) is a teaching strategy that bridges academic theory and real-world practice. 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.

In CBL, learning objectives are directly tied to the engagement experience. Credit is not granted simply for completing hours of community engagement, but for the learning that takes place.

In most cases, CBL includes structured reflection, which helps students derive learning and meaning from their experiences.

Benefits to students from thoughtfully and purposefully-designed community-based learning include: increased grasp of academic content, learning cooperative and collaborative approaches, learning higher order skills such as critical thinking and writing, increased self-efficacy and emotional intelligence.

Criteria for a Community-Based Learning Course

 To be eligible for a CBL Mini-Grant, a community-based learning course must have all of the following attributes:
  • Reciprocity. A CBL Course must have a reciprocal exchange of knowledge or resources with a community partner or on-campus department or program.
  • Integration of Community 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.
  • Student Learning Outcomes:  The course includes at least 2 student learning outcomes that are related to the community-based learning component. For suggestions, see the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) VALUE Rubric for Civic Engagement.
Other suggested aspects of community-based learning that you may wish to include:
  • 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
  • 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.

CBL encompasses a variety of different formats:

  • service-learning
  • community-based participatory research
  • civically-engaged scholarship
  • public performance
  • public art
  • digital publishing
  • senior capstone projects
  • practicums
  • academic internships
  • independent studies