Community Based Learning

What is Community-Based Learning?

Community Based Learning (CBL) 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.

When should you use Community Based Learning?

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

  1. When you want to provide practical experience to your students in a structured manner
  2. When the partner organization has a well-focused issue/question and is interested in exploring multiple viewpoints on how to best handle it
  3. When the organization doesn’t have the resources to host the students
  4. When either your class size is too large to permit community service learning or you are trying to mitigate some of the risks associated with community service learning

A few more considerations before planning your CBL course:

  • CBL is typically suitable for upper year classes
  • The experience has to be meaningful and related to the class content
  • The experience can be part of an ongoing project, where students can continue work of a previous cohort of students. Such partnerships can exist over many years
  • For examples of course outlines which involve Community Based Learning, you can visit the Campus Compact website, available at

How do you implement Community Based Learning?

We will assume that the community partnership has already been established. Remember that the experiential education coordinator is a resource for you in finding suitable partner(s) and developing a working relationship with them. 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(s) 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.

Student Assessment

Since students will be working in groups, they can be assessed by the course director, the community partner, and their peers. Including some level of peer assessment encourages each group member to contribute an equitable share of work to the project.