Community-Based Learning vs. Service Learning: Do Titles Really Matter?

by Dustin Killpack
Philosophy and Religion
Faculty advisor: Dr. Swasti Bhattacharyya and Dr. Laura Bernhardt

Service learning is a hot term in the realm of higher education. An increasing number of colleges and universities are adding service to their strategic visions. However, service learning practitioners have yet to settle on a concrete definition of the practice. This discrepancy has generated debate on what service learning means, a debate which has included proposing numerous alternatives to the title of service learning. A term gaining ground in academic circles is community–based learning. As scholars explored the implications of the word “service” they began questioning if it was the best choice. The negative implications surrounding the word “service” connote a sense of superiority and privilege, of the ones serving, over the people and communities, for whom the projects are designed. This creates a distinction between doing service for versus doing service with your community. Examining the implication of the word “service” and the importance of a more community–centered focus can help scholars define service learning more clearly or start the shift toward community–based learning instead.