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Service Learning Models

While there are a number of models of service-learning, most service-learning experiences can be described in the following five categories: 

  • Kerrissa Heffernan (2002) models of service learning.

This SL model developed by Kerrissa Heffernan (2002) is divided into five categories:

  • Pure Service-Learning,
  • Problem-Based Service-Learning Courses,
  • Capstone Courses, Service Internships,
  • Undergraduate community-based action research, and
  • Community based action research.


  • Pure Service-Learning

These are courses that not only send students out into the community to serve but have, as their intellectual core, the idea of service to communities by students, volunteers, or engaged citizens. They are not typically lodged in any one discipline. On the other side, there is the Discipline-Based Service-Learning Courses. In this model students are expected to have a presence in the community throughout the semester and reflect on their experiences on a regular basis throughout the semester using course content as a basis for their analysis and understanding.

  • Problem-Based Service-Learning Courses

According to this model, students or teams of students respond to the community much as “consultants” working for a “client.” Students work with community members to understand a particular community problem or need. It is presumed that the students will have some knowledge they can draw upon to make some recommendations to the community or to develop a solution. Architecture students might design a park, business students might develop a web site, botanists might identify non-native plants and suggest eradication methods, etc.

  • Capstone Courses

These courses are generally designed for majors and minors in a given discipline. As capstone courses they are offered exclusively to seniors or exceptional juniors. They ask students to draw upon the knowledge they have obtained throughout their course work and combine it with relevant service work in the community with the goal of exploring some new topic or to synthesize their understanding of the discipline. These courses offer an excellent way to help students transition between the world of theory and the world of practice while helping student make professional contacts and gather personal experience. 

  • Service Internships

Like traditional internships, these experiences are more intense than typical service-learning experiences with students working as much as 10 to 20 hours a week in a community setting. As in traditional internships, students are generally charged with producing a body of work that is of value to the community or site. Unlike traditional internships, these internship programs have regular and on-going reflective opportunities that help involved students analyze their new experiences using discipline-based theories. These reflective opportunities can be done with small groups of peers, with one-on-one meetings with faculty advisors, or even electronically with a faculty member providing feedback. And unlike traditional internships these internships focus on reciprocity – the community and the student benefit equally from the experience. 

  • Undergraduate community-based action research

As a relatively new approach gaining popularity, the community-based action research is similar to an independent study option for the rare student who is highly experienced in community work. In this model students can work closely with faculty members and learn research methodology while continuing to serve as advocates for communities and the issues of importance to communities.

  • Community based action research

Especially well-suited for methodology courses or independent study, this approach involves working closely with students to teach research methodologies that advocate for community residents and address issues of concern to the community.


Other service-learning models

The following other Models of Service-Learning have been presented by Kim et al., (2007)

  • Placement model

For this model, students go to an agency or service site multiple times, usually throughout the semester, and also the students tend to have direct contact with clients or issues. Students fulfill typical service roles, then they journal their experiences along the way. Building on this model, an example of placement model can be like taking a student to a mechanical garage where they spend some days with technicians repairing vehicle. The goal might be to improve practical skills. The students receive hands-on experience working with mechanics.

  • Project model

With this model, students undertake a project on behalf of an agency. Sometimes this is a research project that contains everything that does not quite fit into other models. Based on this description, an example of Project Model can be like students in food biotechnologies class being engaged in a research project to determine the reason of the increase in child malnutrition in a region. The students visit nutrition centers and visit families to collect data about the nutrition status. The data collected are analyzed. Students receive hands-on experience conducting research and get firsthand information on what malnutrition is all about.

  • Product model

For this model the students create a deliverable product for an agency or cause, using the skills and knowledge they are gaining in class. And also, the students usually do not work on the product at the agency. Often students work on the product as a group. 

Example of Product Model: Students in our architecture class work on a logo for a recreational park in a local town. The students received all necessary information and product characteristics from the client, they design the logo and the client receives a marketing material.

  • Presentation model