Elements of service learning

Service learning consists of three equally important elements:  

  • Action (practical, community service-oriented, accountable to oneself and others)
  • Learning (professional, methodological, individual and social)
  • Reflection (professional, methodological, personal and social)  


In the course of action-oriented service, hereafter referred to as the engagement, students are involved in projects or activities, which address social needs and challenges and are provided as non-profit services to the general public or subgroups thereof. The duration and scope of the engagement is basically determined by the university curriculum. For the most part, the students' engagement will span several weeks or months with roughly the same number of hours each week.  The (service) activities are manifold and similar to those taken on in the course of (traditional) civic engagement, i.e.    

  • Sports and exercise
  • education and development
  • social issues
  • arts and culture
  • politics and representation of interests
  • environment and animal welfare
  • church and religion
  • leisure activities and social ability
  • fire and rescue services  


University courses provide the framework for and accompany the engagement. In these courses the students acquire theoretical knowledge and reflect on their activities. As part of the course content, they may:  

  • receive professional or study-related instructions
  • examine social aspects of the field of study in question
  • analyze personal strengths (such as professional competence, learning abilities and methodological skills as well as social and personal skills)


As part of the reflection process, experiences drawn from the engagement are linked with theoretical knowledge, which, in turn, leads to a more in-depth understanding of their course content. By reflecting on their experience, the students are encouraged to think about themselves and their aspired future profession. Confronted with analytical questions, the students reflect on situations during their engagement and how they reacted to them. They come to realize which impressions left the strongest impact on them and why that was the case, and subsequently evaluate their experiences. This reflection can take place in a number of ways: e.g. by responding to questions in writing, in the course of discussions with other students or by participating in interactive exercises. Possible topics for reflection are:   

  • how their studies and their engagement relate to one another
  • the impact of their service experience on their own choice of profession
  • what problems they encountered during their service activity, what caused the problems and what individual strategies they want to adopt to resolve them
  • which professional as well as personal strengths and weaknesses were identified


The process of reflection constitutes the perfect link between knowledge and action, and has proven to lead to better learning results than conventional learning. It provides students with insight into real life social contexts, fosters their willingness to take on responsibility and enhances their personal growth.