Evidence-Based Benefits of Service Learning

A number of researchers, Eyler & Giles (1999), Astin et al. (2000), and Eyler et al. (2001) have documented the benefits of service learning to students and to a lesser extent faculty, academic institutions, and community members.

Service learning improves student learning outcomes and contributes to student personal and social development (see Critical Thinking Dimensions below). Faculty report enhanced teaching, service, and research opportunities and academic institutions report increased student retention and improved “town/gown” relationships. Community partners receive additional resources to support their agencies’ mission. Unless otherwise noted, the following outcomes are documented in these studies.


Learning Outcomes

  • Service learning improves student academic outcomes as demonstrated through complexity of understanding, problem analysis, critical thinking, and cognitive development (Astin et al., Eyler et al., Eyler and Giles)
  • Students reported that they learned more and were motivated to work harder in a service learning class then in traditionally-taught classes (Eyler and Giles)
  • Students and faculty report that service learning improves students’ ability to apply what they’ve learned in the “real world” (Astin et al., Eyler et al., Eyler and Giles)

Personal Outcomes

  • Students engaged in service learning report stronger faculty-student relationships than do students not involved in service learning (Eyler et al.)
  • Service learning enhances student personal development such as sense of personal efficacy, personal identity, spiritual growth, and moral development (Astin et al., Eyler et al., Eyler and Giles)
  • Service learning increases interpersonal development, the ability to work well with others, and leadership and communication skills (Astin et al., Eyler et al.)

Social Outcomes

  • Service learning can reduce stereotypes and facilitates cultural and racial understanding (Astin et al., Eyler et al., Eyler and Giles)
  • Service learning increases commitment to service (Astin et al., Eyler et al.)


  • Faculty using service learning report satisfaction with quality of student learning (Eyler et al.)
  • Faculty report using service learning enhances teaching quality (Eyler et al.)
  • Service learning provides outlets for faculty professional expertise and opportunities for faculty research (Willis, 2002)
  • Service learning can increase diversity in the classroom by accommodating a wide variety of learning styles (McGoldrick & Ziegert, 2002)

Colleges and Universities

  • Service learning improves student satisfaction with college (Eyler et al.)
  • Service learning increases student retention (Eyler et al.)
  • Students engaged in service learning are more likely to graduate (Eyler et al.)
  • Service learning improves community relations (Eyler et al.)


  • Communities suggest they benefit from additional resources provided by student service (Eyler et al.)
  • Communities benefit from faculty expertise (Eyler et al.)
  • Communities report enhanced university relations (Eyler et al.)

Critical Thinking Dimensions

A number of studies were conducted that demonstrated a positive correlation between service learning and students’ enhanced critical thinking skills. From these studies, Richard Paul (1993) created a theoretical framework of critical thinking dimensions – Elements of Reasoning, Abilities of Reasoning, and Traits of Reasoning – that serve as a useful framework for describing and evaluating students’ critical thinking in their service learning experiences:

Reasoning Examples
Elements of Reasoning Identify problems

Develop multiple points of view

Identify assumptions

Recognize implications/consequences of actions

Abilities of Reasoning Compare analogous situations

Develop perspectives

Identify assumptions

Clarify issues

Evaluate credibility of information

Raise questions

Generate solutions

Evaluate actions

Traits of Reasoning Affective attitudes






Exploration of thoughts and feelings