Outreach > Service Learning > History of Service Learning

History of Service Learning

The American Association of Community Colleges offers a concise definition: “Service Learning combines service with academic instruction, focusing on critical, reflective thinking and personal and civic responsibility. Service Learning programs involve students in activities that address community-identified needs while developing their academic skills and commitment to their community.”

Service Learning is not volunteering. Service learning is a reflective educational experience in which students earn academic credit by participating in meaningful service activities. Service learning experiences are designed to connect students’ coursework to their roles as citizens.

  • The term service learning was coined in the 1970s, but it has roots dating back to the 1900s when educator Arthur Dunn incorporated service in the community as part of his social studies curriculum. (Los Angeles County Office of Education   |   Linking Service Learning and The California Standards (page 8) PDF - 165 KB   |   ERIC ED448090: Arthur Dunn: Civic Visionary from the Heartland) 
  • John Dew and Williams James were the first to develop service-based learning in an educational setting by combining experiential learning and service to the community. As the benefits of service were acknowledged, a number of associations were established that focused on service in the community. 
  • Campus Compact was founded in 1985 to develop Service Learning in colleges and universities nationwide. In 1990, the U.S. Congress passed the National and Community Service Act as a way to enhance national and community service. (Bright Impact)