Core: Service Learning

Service Learning as Action

Service Learning is a compulsory element of the CP core, constituting a minimum 50 hours of the student's CP course. Whether you are well established in your DP and CP course offerings or completely new to the CP as you prepare for authorisation, consider using Service Learning as a way to focus on skill development explicitly. Another way for them to make connections with other elements of their course but also prepare for the skills they will truly need in the future.

Service Learning: An introduction and overview

'Service learning within the CP Service learning is the development and application of knowledge and skills towards meeting an identified and authentic community need'[1].

A good starting point whether you are creating a course for the first time or reviewing your current provision, is to ask two connected questions.

Establishing successful service learning involves three key shifts in mindset:

1. Shifting from traditional 'community service' approaches
2. Shifting to a context of partnership and reciprocity: 'working with' rather than 'working for'.
3. Shifting to an understanding of the difference between service and service learning.

Challenges for schools

How do you actually create service learning opportunities in the real world?
And how do you enable students to identify the real world significance of the skills their are utilising?

The following aspects can represent challenges to creating and embedding a Service Learning programme. These are explored in the case studies given below on this page and how schools have gone about tackling these challenges.
  • Making service learning meaningful and authentic
  • The appropriateness and impact of the 50 hour allocation   
  • Perceptions: cultural attitudes, perception as an add-on or just a mandatory requirement to meet  
  • Recording, monitoring, reflection, quality of interviews
  • Links to real world scenarios
  • Difficulties in aligning with CAS and building on best practice
  • Establishing the difference between service and service learning
Further questions for deeper discussion
How do you encourage the development of curiosity?
How do you identify authentic needs?
What processes do you have in place for students to deepen their learning?
How prepared do your students feel to take action? What scaffolding do you put in place to help this process?
Do your reflective processes and platforms encourage or hinder good reflective practices?
How do you celebrate service learning projects in your school and wider community?
How able do your students feel to present their findings to a wider audience?
New to Service Learning? Start here

What is it?

Students commit at least 50 hours to authentic real-life service learning projects: this can be a single service learning experience or an extended series of service learning experiences.

Like the other aspects of the CP core, Service Learning allows students to build on their prior knowledge and make links between their academic and career-related disciples and core requirements as well as the learner profile and the IB mission statement. Through the application of Approaches to Learning such as communication and social skills to real -life situations, students develop key capabilities such as decision-making, problem-solviing, initiative, responsibility and accountability for action.

Students follow 5 stages

This framework can enable to students to explore personal development, metacognitive processes, different learning styles, communication and collaboration with others,  acquire and transfer skills and knowledge to new contexts as well as all attributes of the learner profile.

1. Investigation: students analyse a selected issue to ascertain a community need as well as explicitly identify their own areas for personal growth. The parameters of their service learning experience are explored.
2. Preparation: students spend appropriate time acquiring knowlege and skills to help them understand the real needs of the community rather than prioritising their own.  A plan is formed
3. Action: students implement their plan either through direct service, indirect service, advocacy or research or a combination of a number of service types. Students take action to respond to community needs
4. Reflection: reflection takes place frequently with students considering themselves in relation to personal, local and global contexts. Continuous and frequent reflection informs action and next steps
5. Demonstration: throughout this process, students are explicit in the how, what and why of their learning and identify their accomplishments through formal or informal sharing of their experiences through their service learning portfolio.

Four types of service learning

Students' service learning plans will involve one or a combination of the following:

Direct Service: 'Students engage directly with the people, environment or animals'[2]
Indirect Service: 'Though students do not see the recipients of indirect service, they have verified their actions will benefit the community or environment'[2]
Advocacy: 'Students speak on behalf of an issue of public interest in order to promote awareness and understanding through dispersal of accurate information that may lead to others taking action'[2].
Research: 'Students collect information from various sources, analyse data and report on a topic of importance to influence policy or practice'[2].

Prioritising in Service Learning

Research, Relevance, Reach and Reciprocity

When it comes to strengthening a service learning course, schools can consider four key areas of the research stage, the relevance of all projects, the reach and longevity of the service learning projects and the reciprocity opportunities between the community and the school. In a series of upcoming case-studies, there is a common language of success in service learning:

  • Schools prioritising the design of a core where ‘Each element supports and feeds into the others’
  • Students really think about what the community thinks it needs rather than what they think the community needsS
  • Students identify and verify needs through reciprocity
  • Students identify the location and reach of learning
  • Authentic opportunities come from links to career area both inside and outside of school
  • There is explicit attention paid to skills to turn theory into practice
  • There is a closely connected affilitation with the Personal and Professional Skills course
  • Service learning happens with close attention to ATL skill development
  • Extended time is given to the research stage
  • The potential for legacy is identified early on
  • Success for a student depends on where they are trying to find meaning in what they are doing

  • Students understand the impact just one individual can have.

Establishing success in service learning

Discuss to what extent students fulfil the following factors that contribute to service learning success

… students design and carry out projects themselves following the inquiry cycle and work collaboratively.
… students engaging with the four types of action: direct, indirect, advocacy and research
…when students create projects with close links to real world significance.
… there is a designated SL coordinator and teamwork with the leadership and service learning team – timetabled lessons.
… there are opportunities created for students to share and celebrate on a grand scale
…. online platforms are used in a way that allows thoughtful evidence and monitoring.

A checklist for students before moving into the action phase of their service learning project could include ...

Have you designed and carried out the project yourself?
Are you following the inquiry cycle and working collaboratively?
Does your project/s have real world significance?
Are you using your allocated service learning time effectively?
Have you considered how you will share and celebrate your service learning experiences?
Have you established good working practices that allow you to reflect effectively and not waste time?


  1. ^ The IBO, The Service Learning Guide, for use from Augus 2016
  2. a, b, c, d The IBO, The Service Learning Guide, for use from August 2016, p16
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