What is Community-Based Learning?

Community-Based Service & Learning

Community-Based Learning (CBL) signifies a teaching strategy that integrates community engagement with academic coursework. Also known as the pedagogy of engagement, CBL promotes students’ academic learning and civic development while simultaneously addressing real 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) criteria embody the pedagogy of engagement that distinguish and characterize a course as community-based learning. The CBSL staff can provide customized assistance and support with ALL criteria in order to help you be successful with your community-based approach to teaching and learning. See We Can Assist You!

  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, but only when it is done well. Significant learning outcomes and genuine and authentic reciprocity with community stakeholders are achieved when sufficient anticipation and lead time are allotted for thorough development of community engagement and course components. It is suggested that faculty begin this process2-3 months in advance for best results.

Resources for Students: Building your resume through Community Based Learning and information on CBL for students