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. To read more about academic evidence supporting community-based learning pedagogies, download the following article: Evidence_for_Community-based_learning

Criteria for a Community-Based Learning Course

 To be considered as a community-based learning course, it must have all of the following attributes:
  • Community and Civic Engagement. A CBL Course encompasses civic learning through one of three types of activities:
    • 1) service-learning, practicum, career exploration - a reciprocal exchange of knowledge or resources with a community partner or on-campus department/program;
    • 2) civic action - raises awareness or takes action on a topic of public concern among the general public, a particular audience, or on campus; or
    • 3) public scholarship, community-based participatory research - provides research, creative works, or other scholarship to a public audience or community partner.
  • 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.

Exemplary Community-Based Learning will also Demonstrate these Best Practices

  • Reflective Practice. Course requirements and syllabus provide a method 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 to students’ civic development and responsibility.
  • Community Partner Involvement. Community partners are consulted at key stages during the project and their input is woven into project implementation. A final evaluation of the project and partnership is completed, shared appropriately, and used to make needed changes to future activities.
  • Focus on Realistic Solutions. Research results and recommendations focus on realistic solutions and appreciation of community assets rather than merely pointing out problems and deficits.
  • Appropriateness of Student Preparation. Students are appropriately prepared academically and provided with the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for successfully completing the engagement project.

Pedagogical Formats

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