Community-based Learning

Posted by Natasa Brouwer, on Oct. 5, 2021, 3:04 p.m.


Community-based learning (also referred to as ‘service learning’ and ‘community-engaged learning’) is a form of experiential education with a civic underpinning. In practice, what this means is that students gain academic credit for the learning they derive from participating in and reflecting on an experience within a community and society. CBL is often described as being located somewhere between volunteering (the community is the main beneficiary) and work placements or internships (the student is the main beneficiary) as both students and the community should benefit to approximately the same extent. One of the clearest ways of explaining CBL is to highlight its main characteristics, which are: (i) academic credit can be earned, (ii) knowledge and skills that are relevant to the academic discipline are applied, (iii) active engagement with the community takes place in response to a need identified by them, (iv) community organisations are valued as partners from whom students and academic staff can learn, (v) academic theory is viewed in a real world context, (vi) issues vital to social, civic, cultural, economic and political society may be explored, (vii) experiential learning techniques and opportunities are promoted, (viii) reflection strategies underpin the learning and assessment process.

Examples of the application of CBL in a chemistry context include the development of interactive science education activities for primary school classes and after-school projects and testing of soil in inner-city community gardens.
The table that follows identifies some of the benefits of engaging in CBL for staff and students. In addition, advantages shared by both academic staff and students include; (i) no need to try to find time outside of work or college studies for civic and community engagement, (ii) the positive effects on student learning and retention associated with CBL contribute to greater satisfaction among staff and students, (iii) involvement in a more engaging and interesting learning experience for staff and students and reinvigoration of the curricula, (iv) working towards a common goal means that interactions between students and staff (and among students) are generally positive and an effective rapport develops.

Benefits to Academic Staff

Benefits to Students

Increased awareness of community issues related to a discipline and opportunities to connect teaching and research.

Application of academic knowledge and skills to the complexity of a real-world situation.

New perspectives and understanding of how learning takes place.

Develop collaboration, critical-thinking, organisation & communication skills.

Facilitates multidisciplinary projects & networking with colleagues in other subject areas.

Exploration of future role as a professional & how they can contribute to the community.

Opportunities for scholarship & publication.

Improved self-confidence & self-efficacy.

Further Reading:

C Mc Donnell, PM Ennis and L Shoemaker (2011), ‘Now for the science bit: Implementing community-based learning in chemistry’, Education + Training, 53, 218-36. Original author: Claire McDonnell
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See also