What is Community Engaged Learning?

Partner appreciation brunch April 2019

At Western, community engaged learning (CEL) is used to describe pedagogical approaches that aim to achieve both academic and civic outcomes for students, while making a meaningful contribution to both local and global communities through reciprocal partnerships. In this way, CEL is a form of Experiential Learning that places students in partnerships with community and industry and includes elements of community engaged learning, community based research (CBR), and community engaged scholarship (CES).

What is Community Engagement?

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching defines community engagement as collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity".

The Purpose of CEL

The purpose of community engagement is to build partnerships wherein college and university knowledge and resources can be shared with those in the public and private sectors. 

These partnerships can, according to Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

    • enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity;
    • enhance curriculum, teaching, and academic learning;
    • prepare students to serve as educated and engaged citizens;
    • strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility;
    • address critical societal issues; and, 
    • contribute to the public good.

How does CEL differ from other forms of learning?

Community engaged learning differs from traditional forms of learning because it brings course content to life by providing students opportunities to apply their course-based knowledge within real-world settings. CEL also endeavors to instill a sense of civic engagement and social responsibility in students. Through their CEL experience and reflection, students learn socially responsive knowledge affording them the skills necessary to identify and provide solutions for social problems.

Community engaged learning is not about the addition of engagement to learning, but rather the integration of engagement with learning. In these settings, the students’ observations and experiences in the community are as integral to the students’ academic learning as class lectures and library research (Howard, 1998, p. 21). Through their engagement experiences and reflection, academic learning is informed and transformed, and the academic learning informs and transforms the engagement experience, creating a reciprocal relationship between service and learning.1

Community engaged learning is not an internship or a volunteer role. CEL students differ from both volunteer roles and internships in that their service engagement is completed in conjunction with their academic course as part of their grade, whereas volunteer work is not associated with academic work and internships are typically stand-alone learning experiences without a substantial class component.

1Howard, J. (1998). Academic Service Learning: A counternormative pedagogy. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 73, 21-29.