Service learning

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Service learning is a teaching method in which community service is integrated into the curriculum to provide a richer academic experience. This method is a branch of experiential learning has been shown to increase participative learning, increase student awareness of "real world" concerns, increase student civil engagement, and increase diversity in the classroom.

Examples of Service Learning

Students at Swarthmore College serve in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Such activities form the basis of a service learning experience through a course for academic credit or through a significant research experience led by faculty.


Source:  Source: LIFT

Service learning is a relatively new technique in the field of economics. We are not aware of well-designed experimental studies comparing service learning to traditional methods within economics.

Eyler, et al. (2001) summarize "the findings of service-learning research in higher education over the past few years and includes an annotated bibliography." Visit .

In one study, researchers Berston and Younkin compared outcomes for 286 students enrolled in six paired community college courses in various disciplines (Sociology, American History, College Preparatory English, and Introduction to English Composition). One section of each pair was required to participate in 20 hours of service learning in addition to the normal course material. The study resulted in significantly higher course grades and reported higher satisfaction for those students whom were in the service learning section of the class. The study can be found here.

More evidence is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of this technique and its impact on members of underrepresented groups.

How to Incorporate Service Learning

Models of Service Learning

Community Service

Student based instruction

Action Research

Community Problem Solving Seminars (COMPS)

More examples of how to incorporate community service into an economics curriculum can be found here.


Service learning is a teaching technique that is still not common in the field of economics, but it is one which may be very fruitful. Through the concrete experiences and application of economic concepts, students have the ability to understand that quantitative analysis alone cannot encompass the myriad of factors influencing economic issues. By incorporating service learning into a curriculum, students who typically may not respond positively to the traditional chalk and talk method, (which tends to be underrepresented students (Bartlett 1996)), will have the ability to flourish.