2nd Station – Exploring SERVICE-LEARNING


You need to be online (with audio) to watch some TED Talks and have a pen and paper to hand to capture your thoughts.


Whilst a dictionary definition of Service might define it as the action of helping or doing work for someone, in a learning context we have to be careful that what we consider to be of service is actually of genuine help to the individual, group, cause or community we are seeking to support. And if we are engaging in an act or programme of service that connects with a personal interest or passion, or develops our skills and experience does that undermine the objective of the exercise? Should service by its nature be a wholly selfless act in order to be ethical?

When we undertake service as part of a learning experience we use the term Service-Learning. Back in 1979, Robert Sigmon, a leading educator and advocate in this field, defined service-learning as an experiential education approach based on “reciprocal learning”. He suggested that because benefits flow from service activities in all directions, both those who provide service and those who receive it gain from the experience. In Sigmon’s view, service-learning occurs only when both the providers and recipients of service benefit from the activities.

Take a look at his typology of “service” and “learning” from 1994:

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

What do you think this is telling us about the correct balance between service and learning? (here’s a hint: we are aiming for the one at the bottom of the list). Let’s test his theory with an example:

Think of a circumstance in which you have been involved in volunteering to support a community or charity or cause, or an opportunity to do so in your local community. Draw a set of scales on a sheet of paper or in your notebook – one side labelled “Learning” and the other labelled “Service”. Think of a service experience you have been involved in. It can be formal (e.g. a school service project) or informal (e.g. helping a friend with their homework or comforting a family member in a time of need), and unpack it onto the scales, writing the things you learned as a result of the experience on one side and the outcomes of the service you offered on the other.

See if you can arrive at the same number of outcomes on both sides. Can you draw lines between the two to connect the contents of one side of the scale with the contents of the other? If the answer to both of these is “yes” you have identified a positive SERVICE-LEARNING experience.

Watch and Learn:

Explore some of the TED Talks and articles listed below. As you go consider the following questions (and make notes).

Stages of Service Learning

This film looks at how service-learning connects learning to needs in the community and asks: What are the stages of service-learning? What is the difference between direct and in-direct service? How do service-learning and volunteering differ?

Learning Service: How can I do good in the world?

This film considers why we volunteer and whether you can genuinely “do good in the world” through volunteer travel. Is volunteering the best or only route to making a positive difference and is there a right way of going about volunteering?

Service is connecting your passion to someone else’s need

By hating what you are doing and doing it anyway, you are giving service a bad name. In this talk, Jaime Parker redefines community service by urging people to stop engaging in volunteer activities that make them miserable, because misery is contagious. Instead, she urges people to find a volunteer job that makes them excited and to use their passion to brighten the life of another person.


Consolidate with a task:

Reflect on the video and/or articles you explored and think about the ways in which the perspectives of the authors/speakers might have changed your views on Service. Think about the connection between service and learning and the ways in which balance between the two can be achieved. Consider the ways in which you might connect your passions with the needs of your community. Summarise your thoughts in three short statements or capture three quotes from the films and/ or articles that have influenced or confirmed your thinking.

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