Service learning = Experience of co-op + focus on community service

I continue to allocate a portion of my volunteerism in a university setting. After completing my term as Entrepreneur in Residence at Laurier University in Waterloo, I am returning to my alma mater, the University of Toronto and working with their Alumni association (in addition to the International Students Centre).

For those of you looking for volunteer positions, the Alumni office at your school is a gateway to opportunities big and small, local and international, individual and organizationally focused, monetary or service oriented.

Nothing like working in these environments to open you up to new ideas or at least the struggle to bring new ideas into education. While at Laurier I led the initiative to introduce BlackBerry devices for learning and teaching at the MBA level. Talk about a challenge to conventional learning pedagogy. Now at UofT I have been introduced to yet another new-ish idea: Service Learning.

Service-learning is a method of teaching, learning and reflecting that combines academic classroom curriculum with meaningful service, frequently youth service, throughout the community. As a teaching methodology, it falls under the philosophy of experiential education. More specifically, it integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, encourage lifelong civic engagement, and strengthen communities for the common good. (

Co-op vs. Service Learning

Many of you will be familiar with co-op programs. They are pervasive in business-oriented learning streams providing on the job experience and exposure for students, and an entry level workforce plus a chance to find the best and brightest for employers. The actual relationship between teaching and the co-op program more like a relay race with students alternating between learning on the job and learning in the classroom.

Reflecting on the work experience

Service learning has similar benefits to co-op for both the student and organization, but the focus is community service. The organizations involved are non –profits, social enterprises and I’m sure, the corporate social responsibility centres of businesses.

Aside from the focus of the work, service learning takes the learning a step further than a traditional co-op program by incorporating a reflective stage where the teaching acknowledges and encourages examination of the experiential learning.

See your university’s community partnership centre

Like all changes in educational methodologies, adoption takes time. But for those who work in community or social oriented organizations there is great opportunity to work with educators in developing the next generation of social activists. For more information on these kinds of programs see the community partnership centre at your local university. For those in Toronto, take a look at


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