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What is Community-Based Learning?

Community-based learning (CBL) is a pedagogical model that connects classroom-based work with meaningful community involvement and exchange.  Within the context of equitable partnership, community organizations and students mutually benefit from the CBL experience both by meeting course objectives and addressing community-identified goals.  

Students may engage with groups including, but not limited to: nonprofits, government agencies, grassroots collectives, and other educational institutions.

The degree of involvement can vary as can the model of engagement.

The principles of CBL include:

  • Faculty, students, and community groups collaborate toward mutually pursuing community-identified goals and academic course objectives.
  • Courses provide adequate reading, reflection, and evaluation through research and other coursework; faculty meet their course objectives by preparing students for community entry, providing meaningful outlets for critical reflection, and presenting methods of rigorous evaluation.
  • Academic credit is given for classroom and community learning, demonstrated in preparation, research, evaluation, and reflection.

How do community agencies benefit?

  • Expansion of mission and reach without increasing costs 
  • Increased public support and visibility in the community as students are ambassadors 
  • Meet needs and priorities for individuals and communities, as students bring new energy, capacity, and creative ideas. 
  • Builds relationships and trust between residents and students
  • Increases resources, reduction in barriers

How do students benefit?

  • Provides students with direct experience with topics they are studying
  • Allows for reflection in a classroom setting
  • Promotes the complexity of understanding, problem analysis, critical thinking, and cognitive development
  • Enables the possibility for cognitive dissonance/disequilibrium to occur in a setting where students can receive support from faculty, peers, and course content
  • Resonates with students from a variety of cultural backgrounds
  • Encourages personal development such as sense of personal efficacy, personal identity, spiritual growth, communication skills and moral development
  • Reducing stereotypes and facilitating cultural and racial understanding
  • Increases relationships with faculty, peers and community members

Kuh, George. "High-Impact Educational Practices" Association of American Colleges and Universities., 2008. Web. 04 April. 2013.

Eyler, Janet,  Giles Jr., Dwight, Stenson, Christine and Gray, Charlene. “At A Glance: What We Know about The Effects of Service-Learning on College Students, Faculty, Institutions and Communities, 1993-2000: Third Edition” 2001. Vanderbilt University. 

Read results from 2015 Assessment of CBL at Gettysburg College (PowerPoint)


Community agencies work with faculty members to utilize students on a weekly basis, finding opportunities that will benefit agency goals and meet class objectives. Examples include tutoring, mentoring, gardening, yoga, food distribution and sports.

Community partners host students to immerse in course-specific content. These usually take place during a school break. Community partners educate students about their work and community issues while student support projects through service or product development.

Community agencies work with faculty members to develop an idea for a tangible product. Examples include research, videos, photography or oral histories needed to propel organizational goals.

Community agencies incorporate students into a community event that benefit the agency while meeting learning outcomes. Poverty simulations, photo exhibits, panel discussions, and advocacy training are examples of events where students and community members can share experiences.

Community agencies collaborate with faculty to plan and implement a project. Examples include performing plays, creating and exhibiting artwork or creating a community garden.


CBL Faculty Fellowship

Register a CBL course - Course Designation 

Faculty Toolkit for Community-Based Learning


• Development of MOU
• Connections to faculty
• One-on-one guidance

• Guide to service-learning
• Best practices and material development
• Sample syllabi and projects

• Student coordinators to assist with
management of students from classes
• Presentations & workshops
• Trouble-shooting consultations
• Evaluation guidance

Kim Davidson, CPS Director

Amy Dailey, CPS Faculty Liaison