History And Growth Of Service Learning Education Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.


This section reviews the professional literature that establishes service learning as a viable (hands on) experiential pedagogy and alternative to traditional classroom instruction. A comprehensive review of the literature ascertains the value and positive impact of service learning for student participants and the importance of providing critical reflection and high quality programming; however, little is written directly from the student perspective and how they are affected by the service learning experience as proposed in this study. The researcher examined the professional literature to explore the following questions: What is the origin of service learning, and how has the practice of service learning evolved to shape the concepts, ideas and guiding principles of service learning programming? What are the effects of service learning projects on student participants? What are the best practices or components of high quality service learning programming?

The researcher conducted an extensive review of over sixty research studies, contemporary service learning books by service learning researchers, Shelley Billig, Andrew Furco, Janet Eyler and Dwight Giles and scholarly literature pertaining to service learning (history and origins). Researcher utilized a variety of resources for examination: Google Scholar as a primary database for search and ERIC Digest and Northeastern University Library databases to access additional information. Keywords used in the extensive literature search included: K-12 service learning, service learning, experiential learning, best practices of service learning, John Dewey, high quality service learning, student perspective, critical reflection and student engagement.

The literature review is organized around three primary areas of inquiry: (1) the historical background and growth of service learning; (2) the positive impact (benefits) of service learning on student participants' (intended or realized); and (3) student connections (factual knowledge learned in classroom) to meaningful (usable, real world knowledge) experiences achieved through critical reflection. A comprehensive review of the literature demonstrates that the proposed study is well grounded in the existing literature and has particular relevance to the proposed problem of practice. All three themes in the literature provide important insight and information to help researcher gain a better understanding of the service learning experience (phenomenon) for student participants and the context and components for best service learning practice; however, an extensive review of the literature also revealed that limited research has been reported on high quality service learning projects and the service learning experience from the student's viewpoint. The researcher plans to utilize this gap in the literature and conduct the proposed study of a high quality service learning project from the student perspective (of the lived experience), adding new information and insight to the professional literature. This literature review will help support and position the foundation for the research questions at the conclusion of this paper and explore what has not been widely researched or found in the literature: high quality programming and student perspective of the service learning experience.

Inquiry One: Overview of Theorists, History and Growth of Service Learning

Theorists from the social science, education, humanity and psychology fields have contributed to the practice of service learning over the past thirty years. From an educational point of view, theoretical roots of service learning can be traced back as early as the Progressive Movement (early 1900's) when Dewey's pragmatic approach and philosophy of experiential education emphasized the "continuity of experience;" the interaction of two principles-continuity and interaction. Continuity is the aspect of the learning experience as it relates to the individual (each past individual experience influences future experiences). Interaction is the aspect of (active) learning experience as it relates to the (situational influence) environment (Dewey, 1938/1997). "One's present experience is a function of the interaction between one's past experiences and the present situation," (Neill, 2005, p. 1). Dewey's experience theory, implies that there is an indisputable belief that we are what we know and past experience cannot be separated from the present (or current circumstance of learning) if they are to provide the greatest value experience. Dewey greatly influenced the service learning field with his philosophy of experiential learning and the belief "…that for knowledge to be usable through recall and application it has to be acquired in a situation; otherwise it is segregated from experience and is forgotten or not available for transfer to new experiences" (Giles & Eyler, 1994, p. 79).

Dewey's theory of experience challenges teachers to understand the nature of the individual learner, how they have come to know what they know at this point and time (in learning), and to design the most effective programming for individuals (based on this past experience information). When both the individual and environmental components of the learning experience are working together, the result is a valuable learning experience that changes both the learner and the conditions of the environment (Aedo, 2002). This process can help students to reach their potential as learners and as members of society (Neill, 2005). This is the primary goal of the proposed study: to gain insight and information from the students themselves to ascertain what components and activities of the service learning are most value to them during the service learning experience so that teachers can design and incorporate the most effective programming. Dewey's theory of experience is also particularly pertinent to the proposed study and the importance of student/teacher interaction and dialogue during the service learning experience. Dewey's philosophy of learning is the process that occurs between a teacher and student that purposefully engages the learner, and infuses direct experience with the learning environment and content (1916; 1938). According to Dewey, pedagogy must be built around what the individual learner already knows so that teachers can design, facilitate and provide the necessary resources, context and conditions for student learning. It is the relation between the process of actual experience and education that is the premise of Dewey's idea of progressive education-- when past experience and prior knowledge intersect with the present learning circumstances.

Dewey (1938) also emphasized that classroom learning should be enhanced by demonstrating knowledge in the "real life" context, and incorporating a student's life experiences into the curriculum. Service learning is based on acquired (curricular) knowledge application to real world context. Dewey was one of the first theorists to consider contextual learning. Contextual learning begins "from the premise that learning cannot take place in a vacuum, but should somehow be connected with real world attributes to make sense to learners," (Westera, 2011, p. 201). Linking concepts learned in the classroom with real world application adds value, effectiveness and meaning to the learning process. Contextual learning is a widely accepted and implemented practice that includes pedagogies such as internships in social services, authentic learning, action learning (McGill & Beaty, 1995) experiential learning (Dewey; 1938 & Kolb; 1984) and service learning (Eyler & Giles, 19__).

Contextual learning is the primary principal of service learning; the process of student knowledge regarding concepts, principals and skills from course content and the integration of service (action) application to reinforce such knowledge in a real world context. Many scholarly authors (Shank & Cleary, 1995; Resnick, 1987; Johnson, 2002) contribute the decline of the public schooling system to the "absence of real world context" application (Westera, 2011, p. 202). The authors argue that the reason why" students make no connection between what they learn and how their knowledge will be used" (p. 202) is because public schooling is self-insulated from the outside world and tends to be "an internally focused world in itself" (p. 202). Dewey (1938) emphasized the importance of authentic learning (provision of real life situations in learning) and the interrelatedness of concepts and ideas that are best learned when placed in realistic, real world situational settings. This information is significant to the proposed study because it reinforces the value and importance of real world application pedagogies such as service learning.

Similarly, the origins of service learning can be found in other scholarly works such as William Kirkpatrick (follower of Dewey). Kirkpatrick developed the "project method" that involved students' active engagement and participation in their individual projects (Beyer, 1996; Kilpatrick, 1918). Student involvement in their learning was the key to achieving maximum student interest and engagement. Kilpatrick embraced the educational philosophy that students should apply classroom knowledge to the "real world" in the context of service to meet real community needs (Neal, 2003). David Kolb (1984) was another important theorist that has contributed to the service learning field. Kolb believed that learning is a process whereby knowledge is created through transformation of experience; transferring learning from past experience and building new skills to improve understanding (Starnes, Paris & Stevens, 1999). Dewey and Kolb believed that people learn better by doing; hands on learning (Cone & Harris, 1996). Kolb developed a theoretical Model pertinent to understanding the process of the student's service learning experience. Kolb's Model helps explain the process of service learning (as a form of experiential learning) where students process real life scenarios and analyze course content through real life situations in the real world context (Lewis & Williams, 1994). To better understand and assess the best activities and elements of service learning from the students' perspective, it is important to understand where these practices originated. This information will be helpful to determine the true benefits of high quality service learning for the participants. Similarly, the further inquiry of students as active learners, and service learning used as the vehicle to increase students' engagement, motivation and potential learning addresses the relationship of academic and real world application of learning and how a student's potential may increase through successfully learning and working with others in real world context.

The origins of service learning can also be found in notable scholar Pablo Freire (1970) work. Freire was concerned with dialogue (discussion) rather curricular and praxis; action that is informed and linked to certain values. Friere believed that dialogued was not just to deepen understanding within the learner but rather it was part of making a difference in the world (Torres, 1993). Service learning's guiding principal embraces Frier's notion that the combination of student dialogue and action result in equal benefit to the learner and to the recipient of service-- changing or making a difference in both learner and recipient's lives. Cognitive psychologists, Lev Vygotski and Jerome Bruner's work also emphasized that learning was most effective when highly individualized meaning was created for each learner. These theorists fundamental ideas that service learning connects meaningful life experiences with learning through applying knowledge to a real world setting shapes the context for the proposed research.

While service learning's concept is grounded in experiential learning, the interest in service learning as a pedagogical tool for educators was not recognized until Robert Sigmon (1979). Sigmon was credited with being the first to coin the word service learning in reference to an experiential pedagogy that included "reciprocal learning" where both learner and recipient mutually benefited from the experience (Furco, nd, p. 2).

Over the past three decades there have been varying definitions of what constitutes service learning. Service learning has been characterized with a variety of experiential pedagogies such as community service, volunteerism, internships and field work and consequently, there has been much challenge in establishing a precise definition of service learning. Jane Kendall (1990), former executive director of the National Society for experiential Education reportedly found over 147 definitions of service learning and there more throughout the years (Eyler & Giles, 1999). Service learning is often confused or used synonymously with community service. The criterion that distinguishes service learning from community service is the clear presence of an academic and service integration (Allen, 2003). Community service does not contain the intentionality of service learning that prepares participants through a well structured design and understanding of the purpose and goals of the project. Community service is often a valuable service but is does embrace the same level of alignment and integration of academic and service goals.

Several theorists and educators such as Sigmon, Furco and Terry & Bohnenberger (2004) have provided a definition of service learning through a typology that distinguishes the different levels and quality of the service programming focus on the experiential learning continuum. The service learning typology was designed to help guide practice. Sigmon defines high quality service learning as learning that extends from service activities which mutually benefits the participants who provide the service and those who receive the service. Sigmon and later Furco ( ) developed a service learning model that depicted the differences between community service and service learning (below).

Figure 1: Service and Learning Typology (Sigmon and Furco)

service-LEARNING: Learning goals primary; service outcomes secondary

SERVICE-learning: Service outcomes primary; learning goals secondary

service-learning: Service and learning goals completely separate

SERVICE LEARNING: Service and learning goals of equal weight and each enhances the other for all participants

This typology not only helped to clarify service learning from other forms of service activities such as community service but it also helped to establish a criteria for service learning. Similarly, Terry & Bohnenberger defines high quality service learning as Community Action; a high degree of service producing a broader community impact and the highest degree of learning (Terry & Bohnenberger, 2004, p. 323). Terry & Bohnenberger asserts that higher level service learning projects help participants "develop complex problem solving skills, advanced communication skills, the ability to connect knowledge across the disciplines and the perseverance to overcome obstacles" (Terry & Bohnenberger, 2004, p. 323). These typologies are beneficial to the proposed study that will utilize a high quality service learning school that has been identified through prior evidence (state and national recognition) for its high level and quality programming.

Contemporary educators, Janet Eyler and Dwight Giles have been active proponents for service learning and have contributed extensive research that supports service learning as a worthwhile pedagogy. Eyler and Giles have led the annual international conference on service learning in an effort to open discussion on methodological approaches and a more definitive theoretical framework to advance service learning as a credible field of study (Taylor, 2010, p. 36 & 43). Eyler and Giles's research on service learning as an authentic and meaningful learning experience will help guide the research questions in the proposed study. Much of Elyer and Giles' research focuses on the gap of knowledge associated with service learning evaluation of best practices and strategies that contribute to the effectiveness of service learning projects. The importance of utilizing service learning opportunities as a pedagogical tool is well documented by many theorists and educational researchers and reformers. High quality learning projects connect daily classroom instruction to real life experiences in the community. Gaining a better understanding of the service learning experience and identifying what components of high quality service learning will help develop quality programming. This gap in the literature is one of the motivating factors to conduct this investigation. Additional research is needed to explore the actual implementation and application of service learning. Findings learned from the proposed study will help advance the field and the practical application of high quality service learning.