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Many claims have been made about the impact of service-learning on participants, programs and communities. From positive influences on psychological, social and intellectual development to effects on alienation, attitudes and social behavior, service-learning has been mentioned as a method of achieving these outcomes. Additional reviews of the literature in areas related to civic participation and general engagement in the public, political process indicate that service-learning can have an affect on the civic development of youth.

On the other hand, some studies have indicated service-learning does not always have the desired outcomes. As Dan Conrad points out in his review of service-learning research related to social studies education and citizenship education, research is still inconclusive as to the impact of service-learning on participants and on the community.

There is a body of research, dating back to the 1930s, that indicates in the community has value for students. From the Eight Year Project, conducted by Ralph Tyler, to the more recent career education movement of the 1970s, studies show students benefit academically, personally, and socially from learning experiences in the community.

Whether for the purposes of career development, service, or application of vocational skills and academic principles, community-based learning produces measurable results.

This document is updated from the original and continues to address the issue of service as an instructional strategy. Several dissertations and studies completed in the past few years add new information to support the contention that service-learning does benefit students, as well as the community. Further studies will help determine whether the impact of such programs and strategies support increased investment in this promising educational enterprise.


Originally published February 1995, updated April 1997.

Benson, R. V., Shumer, R., & Hengel. (1997). Impacts and Effects of Service Topic Bibliography. St. Paul, MN: National Service-Learning Clearinghouse.

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