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Community Based Learning

What is Community-Based Learning?

Community Based Learning is a form of in-course experiential education that is interactive with the community. Community partners are invited into the classroom to present pre-defined problems, questions or areas of research interest, which will become a project. Students work as ‘consultants’ with the problems/issues provided by the community partners, by applying their developing knowledge and skills. Students also reflect on how the experience relates to or informs their learning. Through completing the project, students make recommendations or provide solutions to the community partner. See Appendix III for a list of benefits of Community Based Learning, and examples of course outlines.

When should you use Community Based Learning?

Community-based learning is suitable for many situations, such as:

  • When your class size is too large to permit community service learning
  • When you are trying to mitigate some of the risks associated with community service learning
  • When the organization doesn’t have the resources to host the students
  • When the partner organization is interested in multiple viewpoints on an issue or question
  • When you want to provide practical experience to your students in a structured manner
  • This strategy is easier to use in a full-year, 24-week, six-credit, course

How do you implement Community Based Learning?

For this section, we will assume that the community partnership has already been established. For further information on this, see Forming Community Partnerships.


When planning a course with a community based learning component, there are several factors to consider. Firstly, students will likely be working in groups. Depending on the size of your course, the groups can range from three to five individuals. You will have to structure your assignments with this in mind.

Secondly, try to meet your community partner early on (at least one month before the course begins). As you are meeting them, gather their needs and expectations, and ensure that you both clearly understand the purpose of the project.

Thirdly, when meeting with your community partner, it is important that they understand that your students are not professionals in their field. You have to manage the expectations that the community partner may have from this partnership, and do your best to ensure that their needs are met, while meeting the learning goals of the students.

The experiential education coordinator is a resource for you in finding a partner and developing a working relationship with them. They can also be of assistance in many other ways. Refer to both Appendix III and “Forming Community Partnerships” for more information.

Student Assessment

Since students will be working in groups, they can be assessed both via the course director and peer evaluations. Peer evaluations ensure that each group member contributes an equitable share of work to the project.

Updated on April 9th, 2013.