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Making service learning part of your course content

Perhaps one of the most important things an adult educator can do, is to develop and implement curriculum that the student will be able to immediately apply in a community setting. If the student sees immediate value to what they are learning, student learning success will follow.

One of the things I like most about our school is that all of the teacher's have been in the field that we are teaching. I know that is not always the case in many institutions. I believe it is very beneficial to the students to hear "real world" experiences during classroom discussions. I work very hard to make sure the students are receiving information through my own experiences that will help them once they graduate.

This is a great idea. Providing students with information in the course’s curriculum on how, where, when and even whom they need to contact in the community to immediately apply what they have learned. The obvious place is their workplace. But there are students who may not be employed at the time or that they would like to apply the skills beyond the workplace environment, as a service to the community. Great post!

J Medina

By bridging the gab between the "real world" and the classroom you motivate them to take all of the lessons more seriously and they will retain the information knowing they will soon need to put it to use.

Absolutely, whether it is a tour of a facility, field trip, interactive activity, students needs to relate to the subject being taught as well as seeing the application of that study put into action. We encourage out students all the time in a culinary school setting to volunteer if you are not currently working in the culinary industry. By volunteering, the students can see what it is like to cater an event, prepare meals, potential industry related experience etc. other than cooking in school.

We have developed a project where the students from our classes go into active kitchens in the school and apply their new knowledge of sanitation by inspecting the kitchens. They then must give advice on how to improve the status of the kitchen. At the completion of the project they are amazed at the depth of their knowledge and their ability to see problems and offer solutions. Part of this project is to encourage these new students to work with each other to develop the habits needed to put the proper sanitation practices in action. All knowledge without practice does not make for safe food production. On the other hand, habits are hard to break and good practices need to replace those bad habits. A student reminding a fellow student, immediately when the infection occurs, is a means of overcoming bad habits and reinforcing good.

Hi Kathleen,
This is what making the two words, application and relevancy come to life really means. This is a great exercise for the students. This really helps them develop their observational skills as well as learning how to work well with others in a work situation.
Great student experience.

At our school we have a project where students are able to work in real life situations with real clients problems and requests. I had occasion to work with and observe a student interacting with a client and try to solve a problem in a small office. The steps forward, false starts, steps backward made the student realize that redesigning a room for someone is a series of what if's and how about this until the client begins to trust you and your opinions about what you recomend for a solution for the space. Once the trust is established the client is more able to accept what the student sees as the solution.

Hi Robert,
This really helps to "connect the dots" for students between the classroom and what they are going to face in the real world. This approach reinforces both application and relevancy.

Guest speakers from the live field are an invaluable resource, especially when they are perceived as successful or have a glamorous career. Examples from current operations/situations that can be researched on an on-going basis also drive home the point. Encouraging discussion regarding past experiences of the student class relevant to the lesson has been successful as well. I observe other teachers in my department and search for opportunities to insert any of these eye-opening exercises in our lesson plans as we hone and fine-tune the course.

Some of the most rewarding feedback I receive from my students is when they find that the "class room lessons" are applicable in the real world. Their interest tends to dramatically increase and they tend to actually want to participate and further research the subject matter presented to them.

Hi Felicia,
Good point! This is what makes teaching fun. The students realize that you are teaching them content that can be transferred to settings outside of the classroom. This always surprises me because that is what we are supposed to do with our courses. We are preparing students to transfer their newly acquired knowledge and skills to "real life" and make application of that content as needed. Simple but often overlooked by students.

On the example of the "me generation" and value in what they are learning I've found they often come to school with the attitude that once they have a degree they can quickly go out into the work world and make really good money. The problem I see is that they aren't applying themselves. So if money is a motivator I also think then that if I have them understand that with certain skills their success will improve and perhaps lead to the high paying job rather than struggling to climb that ladder of having to re-learn or become knowledgable in what they "blew off" in school.

Hi David,
You make a very good point concerning the need to "earn" one's place in one's career. There is effort that must be put forth if one is going to be successful and rise within the field. Success does not come without hard work and dedication. This is a lesson our students need to learn early on in their career.

I agree that service learning can be a wonderful addition to most any course (I used to be a service learning coordinator). Sadly, I've seen schools do it more for the PR aspect and try to retrofit service opportunities that are mismatched for the course just to say they've done it. As I said though, done with the right intention and with an opportunity that fits the course, it's awesome!

Hi Melissa,
Sad to say I have seen the same thing. This is why it is so important to set the program up right and target those service areas that will benefit both the students and the recipients.

I can have a grade A in a school setting and still be a failure in my professional life

How do we address the fact that sometime school expectations do not always reflect a success in real professional life expectation?

Hi Tareq,
This is where a good advisory committee can be of help. The training being offered by the school has to reflect the demands of business and industry. If it doesn't then it isn't fair to the students and the school is going to have some accreditation issues before long.
The advisory committee can give input in relation to course content and experiences. This way the content and experiences will enable the students to transition from school into the workforce with ease.

This is definitely one of the most effective methods I have seen to really get adult students to get seriously interested and invested in the course content. When they feel like what they are looking at has immediate relevance in today's workplace, they feel more confident about their investment in the education.

One of the tools I use to accomplish this is bringing in references from the industry, books, articles, guest speakers, etc. to discuss what is current. Ideally this will mirror much of what we are teaching.


For my dental assistant students we go on field trips once per month to volunteer at a clinic to brush , floss and teach oral hygiene to the patients, the students have their "Ah ah " moment when they visit, as they have a sense of satisfaction when they apply the classroom knowledge to the real world experience.We always discuss the visits the following day in class and they all agree about the enjoyment of the experience.

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