Community-Engaged Learning: What You Need to Know

Community-engaged learning is learning within and alongside communities. In higher education, community-engaged learning combines classroom learning with community engagement, allowing students to gain hands-on experience in an issue or challenge they are studying while building capacity for local, national or global community partners.

Often used interchangeably with the term service-learning, community-engaged learning emphasizes collaboration and reciprocity. Community-engaged learning projects draw on the expertise of community partners and create mutually beneficial outcomes for students and community members.

What are the Benefits of Community-Engaged Learning?

 In many cases, colleges and universities act as anchor institutions in their communities, supporting the local area economically, socially and culturally. When community-engaged learning is designed well, it has enormous benefits for students, institutions of higher education and community partners.

  • For students, community-engaged learning helps them gain hands-on experience and develop a deeper understanding of the community where they live, work and study. 
  • For community partners, community-engaged learning provides access to new resources, such as student volunteers who can undertake direct or indirect service or new research data that can further the organization's mission.
  • For institutions of higher education, community-engaged learning offers a deeper connection with the local community and a broader, more holistic approach to student education. Community-engaged learning also opens the door to new avenues for faculty research and collaboration in the community.

By encouraging students to engage locally, institutions of higher education can create meaningful, impactful outcomes that move the needle on community challenges while equipping students with real-life skills.

What Forms Can Community-Engaged Learning Take?

Community-engaged learning comes in many different forms. Educators should consider the community partner's needs and the student's capacity when designing a community engagement opportunity. 

If you are teaching an upper-level research class, it could be an excellent opportunity to undertake in-depth research that can help a local agency build a case for new funding. On the other hand, an intro-level course may be the perfect opportunity for students to begin engaging with service users at a site to complement their classroom learning and give them a deeper understanding of an area like healthcare, food and housing security or local policy. 

Broadly, community-engaged learning can be split into four main categories: direct service, capacity building (or indirect service), community-engaged research and advocacy. Each can be essential in building on community strengths and addressing community challenges. However, for community engagement to be effective, students must be well-prepared, and opportunities need to be well-structured.

How Should Community-Engaged Learning Be Structured?

By definition, community-engaged learning should include elements of classroom learning and elements of hands-on learning in the community. To ensure that community-engaged learning opportunities are sustainable, impactful and mutually beneficial, each should include the following stages:

  • Planning. Identify one or more community partners to work with and design a project that addresses their needs and provides opportunities for student learning. Develop some broad goals and, from there, narrow them down into clearly defined student learning outcomes.
  • Training and Preparation. Ensure that students thoroughly understand the community they will be working with and have the tools to build strong relationships by offering training, discussions, readings, workshops and research assignments.
  • Engagement. Time to put that learning into action! At this stage, students actively engage with community partners on a project that enhances their learning and positively impacts the community. 
  • Assessment and Reflection. Design reflection exercises like essays, journaling, discussions and group projects to allow students to reflect on what they learned through their experiences. What was successful? What could be improved next time?

Streamline Community-Engaged Learning with GivePulse

To ensure that community-engaged learning opportunities run smoothly, program leaders must manage logistics like scheduling shifts, posting opportunities and tracking hours. A service-learning management (SLM) platform can help streamline this process. 

GivePulse provides an all-in-one platform for professors, teachers, educators and administrators to simplify the logistics of managing community partnerships and tracking student engagement in service-learning courses.

Ready to see how we can help you engage your students and uplift your community? Schedule a demo with GivePulse today.



About GivePulse

GivePulse's mission is to enable everyone in the world to participate and engage in lifting their community to new heights. We do so by providing a platform to list, find, organize and measure the impact of service-learning, community engagement, philanthropy, corporate social responsibility and volunteerism.

Founded in 2012 in Austin, Texas, GivePulse works with 650,000+ groups, including colleges and universities, nonprofits, businesses, K-12/school districts and cities and municipalities. Together, we connect millions of people in an effort to create positive social change.

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