Service-Learning - Learning Through Engagement

Service-learning is a form of teaching and learning that combines academic learning with community service. Service-learning was already established at US universities in the 1980s. Now more and more German universities are practicing Service-learning.

Service-learning is characterized by two main components:

  • The learning component: the theoretical knowledge for a topic is academically prepared and taught in seminars. Moreover, the experience from the engagement phase will be reflected and summarized.
  • The service component: students apply what they have learned from the theoretical seminars in practical projects at community partners.

These two components are essential parts of the curriculum and are well balanced.

The definition of service-learning is different from volunteerism and internship, as the learning component is missing in the former and the idea of service is missing in the latter. Service-learning on the other hand combines both learning and service (Bartsch & Grottker, 2018).

Upcoming events

Workshop for lecturers “Service-learning – Combining social engagement and academic teaching”
will take place on October 15, 2020 from 9:30am – 5:30pm (workshop language: German).

Click here for detailed information. 

Link for registration:

Who benefits from service-learning?


  • acquisition of ECTS points and certificate for service
  • in-depth learning through practice
  • apply own knowledge in the community
  • improving technical, methodological and social competences
  • career orientation and development
  • awareness of socio-political problems


  • increasing attractiveness and quality of teaching
  • testing innovative teaching concepts
  • impulses for new research fields
  • development of new interaction with students
  • networking with project partners


  • profile building in the field of transfer by linking academic teaching and practice
  • networking with civil society stakeholders
  • developing ideas in research and teaching
  • awareness of social responsibility and better anchoring in society

Community Partners

  • solving real problems through student engagement and support
  • establishing networks and cooperation with university
  • impulses from the academic community
  • getting to know potential employees

Examples of service-learning

University of Bonn (winter term 2020/21): MitSprache – Integration through language guidance for new immigrants

Module description: In seminar you will acquire knowledge of language didactics, as well as methodological and socio-cultural skills. After the seminar, you will conduct community service to support and accompany immigrants during their integration in Germany.

Service-learning projects at University of Cologne (Professional Center)

European Observatory of Service-Learning in Higher Education – Good Practices

General examples of service-learning at Western Michigan University

Quality standards of service-learning

Common objectives

Service-learning is compatible with goals of all stakeholders involved.

Real need

Students engagement responds to a real need of society.

Curricular anchoring

Service-learning is part of the curriculum.


Regular and professionally guided reflection.

Student participation

Students are actively involved in the planning, preparation and design of the project.


The engagement of the students is well recognized.

Procedure of a service-learning seminar

Support of service-learning coordination

  • Consulting for conceptual development of service-learning courses
  • Training workshops for lecturers on service-learning
  • Searching for suitable cooperation partners
  • Support for introductory and final workshops
  • Provision of certificates for students
  • Evaluations and assessments with lecturers and students
  • Public relations of service-learning courses

Altenschmidt, K. & Miller, J. (2016). Service Learning – Ein Konzept für die dritte Mission. Die Hochschule: Journal für Wissenschaft und Bildung, 25 (2016) 1, S. 40-51.

Baltes, A. M.; Hofer, M. & Sliwka, A. (Hrsg.) (2007). Studierende übernehmen Verantwortung. Service Learning an deutschen Universitäten. Weinheim & Basel.

Bartsch, G. & Grottker, L. (2018). Do it! Das Programm für gesellschaftliches Engagement von Hochschulen. 

Furco, A. (2009). Die Rolle von Service Learning im Aufbau einer gesellschaftlich engagierten Universität. In: Altenschmidt, K.; Miller, J. & Stark, W. (Hrsg.). Raus aus dem Elfenbeinturm? Entwicklungen in Service Learning und bürgerschaftlichem Engagement an deutschen Hochschulen. Weinheim & Basel, S. 47-59.

Miller, J.; Ruda, N. & Stark, W. (2016). Implementierung von Service Learning in Hochschulen.

National Youth Leadership Council (2008). K-12 Service Learning Standards.

Santilli, N. R. & Falbo, M. C. (2001). Bringing adolescents into the classroom by sending your students out: Using service learning in adolescent development courses. Newsletter of the Society for Research on Adolescence, S. 4-6.


The University of Bonn is a member of the Hochschulnetzwerk – Bildung durch Verantwortung (Higher Education Network – Education through Responsibility).