What is community-engaged learning (CEL)? 

Community-engaged learning (CEL) is a pedagogical approach that involves students, community partners, and instructors working together to analyze and solve community issues through experiential learning. This high-impact educational practice: 

  • Meets student learning objectives through course content, community engagement, and critical reflection
  • Generates and applies academic knowledge in community-based settings to address the needs of the community as identified through mutually beneficial collaboration with community partners
  • Helps anchor CNU in the local community by providing meaningful connections between teaching, research, and service and the issues our community grapples with every day

Community-engaged learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community partnerships with instruction and critical reflection to enrich the student learning experience, teach civic and social responsibility, and strengthen communities.

What are types of community-engaged learning?

Community-engaged learning can take many forms, but the most common include:

  • Direct Service: students engage in short-term projects with a partner in a community context
  • Capacity Building, or Indirect Service: students help build the capacity of an organization by using their academic knowledge to produce a deliverable requested by the community partner
  • Community-Based (Participatory) Research: students examine a question or concern articulated by a community partner through research or academic study 
  • Social Action & Advocacy: students engage with a community partner to analyze a social problem, develop an action plan, and advocate for social change
What are the guiding principles of community-engaged learning?
  1. Must be community-driven
  2. Must be mutually beneficial
  3. Must involve critical reflection 
How is community-engaged learning different from service learning?

Often used interchangeably with the term service learning, community-engaged learning is distinct from service learning. Whereas service learning simply invites students to participate in acts of service, count service hours, and reflect on their experiences, community-engaged learning combines classroom learning with community engagement where students work alongside community partners to gain hands-on experience in building sustainable, resilient communities.

This approach invites students to critically reflect on justice issues and reorients students as members of larger communities who foster relationships of solidarity and respect toward the community and our shared natural environment.