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Physical Therapy Service Learning

(as defined by Community-Campus Partnerships for Health)

Service-learning is frequently interpreted to refer to all methods of experiential education, however, there are several key components of service-learning which are distinguishable from other types of experiential education, such as clinical training, volunteerism, internships, and field study. Service-learning, as defined by the HPSISN (Health Professions Schools in Service to the Nation) Program, is a structured learning experience which combines community service with preparation and reflection. Students participating in service-learning activities are not only expected to provide direct community service but also to learn about the context in which the service is provided, and to understand the connection between the service and their academic course work.

Service-Learning Experiences

  • Are developed in collaboration with the community
  • Enhance the standard curriculum by extending learning beyond the lecture hall
  • Foster civic and social responsibility
  • Allow students to apply what they have learned to real world situations
  • Provide time for reflection, leadership development and discussion
  • Foster a sense of caring for others
  • Identify and meet community needs and assets

Reciprocal and Mutual Benefits

Service-learning includes reciprocal and mutual benefits for all stakeholders. Reciprocal learning presents an opportunity for all participants in a service-learning program: faculty, community partners, and students have roles of both teachers and learners.


Service-learning is based on the pedagogical principle that learning and development do not necessarily occur as a result of experience itself but as a result of a reflective component explicitly designed to foster learning and development.

Institutional Changes

Service-learning has shifted the common practice and philosophy of teacher from "informant" to "facilitator". As a facilitator, faculty probe students to think in new ways about health, education, the delivery of care, the community, and their role as a health professions student. Also, many promotion and tenure guidelines include service (service-learning as legitimate scholarly activity) alongside research and teaching.

How Service-Learning Differs from Other Methods of Experiential Education

Clinical Training

  • Supervised, structured experience in a health care facility in which students assess, plan, implement, and evaluate health care services using the conceptual framework specific to their discipline
  • Allows students to practice and apply theories and skills learned in the classroom
  • Involves no monetary compensation
  • Mandatory for completion of related certificate and degree programs.


  • Giving time and energy to an activity for no monetary compensation
  • Usually not connected to classroom instruction
  • Freely chosen
  • May or may not address unmet community needs

Field Study

  • Involves co-curricular service opportunities that support but are not directly integrated formally into the academic course of curriculum
  • Primary focus is to increase/enhance student understanding of a particular area of study
  • May or may not address unmet community needs
  • May or may not involve monetary compensation


  • Emphasizes hand-on experiences that enhance understanding of issues relevant to a specific area of study
  • May involve monetary compensation
  • May or may not address unmet community needs
  • Usually places minimal emphasis on students providing meaningful service to the site or agency
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