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What Is Community-Engaged Learning?


There are many definitions of Community-Engaged learning. Here at the University of Minnesota, we use the term to describe a teaching method that incorporates community involvement into coursework. This class-related community involvement enhances students' understanding of course materials. While deepening the learning process in this way, students build a sense of civic responsibility. At that same time, they address community-identified needs.


There is a wide range of community-engaged experience that might be incorporated in courses. To help students find specific community-engaged learning opportunities, the following options refer to experiences conducted in community-based settings:



Clinical: Experience through which the student applies and practices learned academic and experiential skills in a supervised professional setting, often in health-related or legal fields. Typically, the experience is offered in a separate credit-bearing course related to other more theoretical courses and/or is offered as a culminating experience after a sequence of theoretical courses. 



Entrepreneurship: Students explore and build skills in planning and/or developing businesses, enterprises, or social ventures.



Field Study: Students practice skills, conduct research, and/or explore academic content in an off-campus setting. The setting is primarily a context to benefit and enhance student learning.



Internship/Co-Op: An uncompensated or compensated off-campus activity in a student's field of study in which the student explores industry-related or work-related issues and/or develops professional or para-professional knowledge and skills. Typically, the student's work is supervised and evaluated by a site coordinator or the instructor. 



Practicum: Course or student exercise involving practical experience in a professional or other work-related setting (paid or unpaid) in which the student applies learning gained from theoretical or other academic study. Activity might include supervised opportunity as part of a pre-service professional experience

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Research: Opportunity for students to collaborate with an external organization or community partner to conduct research. The research might or might not meet the needs of the organization or the broader community.



Service-Learning: Optional or required out-of-classroom community service experiences/projects attached to a course or other credit bearing experience. Students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and reflect on the service activity to better understand course content.



Student Teaching: Pre-professional and/or pre-service experience, usually as part of a teacher education program, through which the student conducts experiential learning within a formal education school setting. The student participates in supervised teaching that is evaluated by a supervising teacher or other instructor.


Every year, Community-Engaged learning on the U of M, Twin Cities campus includes:
  • approximately 120-130 undergraduate and graduate courses
  • approximately 28 academic departments
  • approximately 2,700 students!
Support for most U of M service-learning classes is provided by the Center for Community-Engaged Learning (formerly called the Community Service-Learning Center). Our office in 240 Appleby Hall works with faculty, students, and community partners to coordinate service-learning classes. For information about our specific services, see the Services We Provide page.

Service-learning is a form of experiential education that allows students to learn by doing. Time spent working with a community-based organization becomes part of the students' homework. In service-learning classes, the community serves as a "lived text" for the class—another powerful source of information to complement course readings, lectures, and discussions.

To help students get the most from this, service-learning classes include reflection activities. Reflection helps students articulate what they've learned in their community work, and connect that to their classroom studies.