Community-Based Learning

Community-based learning (CBL) is an experiential instructional strategy linked to course outcomes that engages students in solving problems within their schools and communities as part of their academic studies, transforming them from passive recipients to active participants in their education and community while providing a deeper understanding of theories and course content. 

Community-Based Learning is:

Experiential: It provides students with hands-on projects/problem-solving with community partners.

Collaborative: Students and community partners equitably share the processes and desired outcomes in an active and reciprocal manner.

Action-oriented: The process and results are useful to community members in solving real-world problems, often promoting social equity and positive social change.

Examples of community-based learning can include internships, clinical experiences, student teaching, action research, and service learning. A course receives a "CBL" designation if:

  • The community component is integrated with course content and meets at least one course outcome.
  • The community component is of value to and designed in collaboration with the community.
  • There are structured opportunities for reflection upon the application of their learning to the community experience (writing assignments, discussions, presentations, etc).

CBL courses at Saint Joseph’s College encourage tolerance, leadership, and civic and social responsibility, while promoting the Core Values of the College and furthering the Mercy tradition of service on which the College was founded.

How Does Community-Based Learning Work?

Doing hands-on projects/problem-solving with community partners as part of a course contributes to learning course content just as reading texts, watching films, or conducting experiments in the lab do. Learning continues to occur through an array of reflection activities and assignments that help students connect their experiences in the course with the central ideas, hypotheses, theories, and methods they are studying.

Pearson's Town FarmAt Pearson’s Town Farm (the local organic farm), students are learning about the environmental consequences of modern agricultural practices and alternatives to the industrial model. As a part of their coursework, students work at the farm. By actively participating in the farming activities, they learn through experience what they otherwise would only read or hear about. While practicing sustainable agriculture, they see how some other current practices are unsustainable. Students then relate their local experience to their developing understanding of the global impacts of agriculture through reflective exercises. The products of the farm are distributed to the students’ food service, as well as to the local food pantry charity, establishing the real connection between their work and the community served. The exercise is a valuable learning experience, a valuable service, and deepens the students’ connection with the Mission of the College.

students at children's museumFine arts major YuPing Hu helped design the set for the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine’s production of “Sleeping Beauty.” According to Hu, this kind of hands-on learning was particularly valuable. “I meet many different people and learn to step outside of my own box,” she says. “I might be contributing to the community through my art, but in return, the community gives back compliments and suggestions that allow me to grow as an artist.”

What Are the Benefits of Community-Based Learning?

CBL challenges students to learn firsthand about community, democracy, diversity, justice, civil society, social responsibility, leadership, and critical thinking. In addition, it offers students opportunities for personal growth, improved social and communication skills, job training, and exposure to an array of diverse perspectives that exist beyond the confines of campus life.


students leaving on a lobster boatProfessor Engel’s Marketing Communications class worked with local lobstermen to develop a communications plan to raise awareness of the current issues facing the Maine lobster industry. Through research and working closely with the local lobstering community, students learned the importance of speaking with one voice and working together to influence change. They developed a complete communications package that the community is now using to move forward with their "Made in Maine" brand.



Pearson's Town Farm

For more information about community-based learning, service learning, or community-based research, please contact Kimberly Post at or 207-893-7789.





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