Types of Community-based Learning Courses

The varying models are listed below, alongside corresponding UW-Madison course examples. 

Discipline-based Service-learning
The experiential, “direct service” learning is closely aligned with and complements the classroom learning in a discipline, as in tutoring students in a math class.

Example: Rehab Psych & Special Education 300 - Individuals with Disabilities

Project-based/ Consulting Service-learning

Students have an evolving skill to offer as a “deliverable” to community partners.

Example: InterEgr 160 - Introduction to Engineering

At higher level of knowledge; students expected to bring several years of coursework to the project or service; e.g., designing curriculum for middle school programs.
Example: Environmental Studies 600 - Last Child in the Park: How kids and birds can save the world

Service Internship

Students spend considerable amount of time per week at an organization, but still incorporating classroom or online reflection with instructor in order to process the community learning.
Example: Women's Studies 660 - Internship in Women's Studies

Community-based Research

With instructor and sometimes community members as participants, students engage in research of value to community partner
Example: Civil Society and Community Studies 570 - Community-based Research and Evaluation



Measuring Academic Success

Academic credit is awarded for the student’s demonstration of integrating their classroom and reading content with their community engagement.

While in traditional courses we assess students’ learning from traditional course resources, e.g., textbooks, class discussions, library research, etc., in CBL courses we evaluate students’ learning from the blending of traditional resources and community service.


Incorporation of Reflection

Reflection activities provide a method or methods for students to process what they learned through the service experience and how these experiences relate to academic course content. It is a thoughtfully-constructed process that challenges and guides students in:

  • examining critical issues related to their community-based learning project
  • connecting the service experience to coursework
  • enhancing the development of civic and ethical skills and values, and
  • finding personal relevance in the work

Minimum Amount of Service

The Morgridge Center for Public Service and other academic centers at peer institutions recommend at least 25 hours of service over the course of the semester in order for a direct-service course to be considered of value. This is borne out by studies showing less amount of contact is less valuable for student learning, as well as of little value to community organizations except in certain “plug and play” volunteer situations (landscape clean-up day at the zoo, etc.)