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date: 18 February 2020

Exploring the “Three Ps” of Service-Learning: Practice, Partnering, and Pressures

Summary and Keywords

Over the last three decades, service-learning has become a well-known experiential learning pedagogy in both management education and higher education more broadly. This popularity is observed in the increasing number of peer-reviewed publications on service-learning in management and business education journals, and on management education topics within higher education journals focused on civic engagement and community-based teaching and learning. In this field of study, it is known that service-learning can result in positive outcomes for students, faculty, and community members. In particular, for students, positive results are related to mastery of course content and group process skills like teamwork and communication, leadership, and diversity awareness. Despite the rise in scholarship, service-learning instructors still face several challenges in the area of best practice standards, fostering deep and cohesive partnerships, and managing institutional pressures that disincentivize engaged teaching practices. With constantly evolving challenges in management education, continued research is needed to understand a variety of service-learning facets such as platforms (face-to-face, hybrid, and virtual learning), populations (graduate vs. undergraduate populations and adult vs. traditional college-age learners), measurement (how to assess university-community partnerships and faculty instruction), and which institutional policies and procedures can enable and reward community-engaged teaching and learning approach.

Keywords: service-learning, responsible management education, experiential education, higher education, community-engaged teaching


Service-learning is an approach to teaching and learning that involves engaging students in community-based service activities that are clearly and intentionally connected to their course concepts and learning goals. Service-learning, although relatively straightforward conceptually, is actually quite a multifaceted teaching tool. A more robust definition of service-learning is “the integration of academic material, relevant community-based service activities, and critical reflection in a reciprocal partnership that engages students, faculty/staff, and community members to achieve academic, civic, and personal learning objectives as well as to advance public purposes” (Bringle & Clayton, 2012, p. 105). Drawing upon this multiplicity of interrelated components, service-learning has a wide variety of forms, intended outcomes, and links to an array of academic and social initiatives (Beatty, 2010). It also has its fair share of criticisms and challenges (Chong, 2015; Morin, 2009). It is this complexity and nuance that continues to elicit rich discussion and dialogue, not only about what service-learning is and how to best leverage it to attain desired outcomes for all contributors—faculty, students, and community partners—but also about the challenges that remain in terms of extending service-learning scholarship and practice moving forward into the future.

As management educators, when discussing moving forward into the future with service-learning, readers should note that there is a vast global network of service-learning scholars and practitioners. Service-learning is a teaching tool used across multiple disciplines and at every level of education from primary through tertiary. Its application can be seen in teaching environments extending well beyond North American institutions. In fact, service-learning is a domain that has attracted attention and application from academics all over the world. This is best showcased through the International Association for Research in Service-Learning and Community Engagement’s (IARSLCE) affiliate organizations including Europe Engage, which includes members from 12 European countries; Asia Engage, with members from 20 countries; Engagement Australia, with 24 institutional members from across Australia and New Zealand; and the Latin American organization Centro Latinoamericano de Aprendizaje y Servicio Soldidario, which serves as a research hub for institutional members from across Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula (Donnchadha & Ma, 2016).

Over the past three decades, growth in service-learning extends beyond the emergence of institutional networks; there has been a proliferation of domain-specific research and scholarship. In fact, service-learning research has become a mainstream topic in management education journals. This can be seen in the relative frequency of articles published on service-learning as well as the number of management education journals that have run special issues on service-learning. These include the Journal of Management Education (Kenworthy & Fornaciari, 2010), the Academy of Management Learning and Education (Bailey, 2005), and the Journal of Business Ethics (Collins, 1996). This trend is also apparent across disciplines, with service-learning research developing over the recent years in both complexity and diversity. This is seen in the emergence and popularity of open access peer-reviewed service-learning specific journals like the Michigan Journal of Community Service-Learning, the Journal of Service-Learning in Higher Education, Partnerships: A Journal of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement, and the International Journal of Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement. This is also demonstrated through the development of discipline-specific service-learning journals (e.g., the International Journal for Service Learning in Engineering, Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship). Richard (2016) accurately described the state of research in service-learning with his observation of the “vibrant conceptualization and methodological exploration that continue to characterize service-learning and community engagement research” (Richard, 2016, p. 1).

In This Article

As a framework for the comments in this article, three key domain topics are presented, referred to as the “three Ps,” which the authors argue will drive the next generation of service-learning research and application: Practice, Partnering, and Pressures. First, the article contextualizes service-learning as teaching tool that falls within the experiential education domain. Once contextualized, the article discusses the core experiential elements that, when intentionally and strategically integrated together, create the distinctive practice of service-learning. It is this framework of core elements that will guide the continued evolution of service-learning in tertiary teaching and learning environments. Second, although the presence of community partners is a critical component of service-learning, it is an element that has historically been marginalized in terms of both scholarship and practice. As such, this article includes issues related to the process of creating, nurturing, and maintaining effective partnerships as those that lie at the forefront of discussions related to progress in the service-learning domain. Exploring the dynamics of effective partnering is particularly important given the attitudinal and behavioral consequences of “ivory tower” and “server versus served” biases. These historically enacted, and still all-too-frequently observed, biases create unequal and dysfunctional partnerships between university and community, which negatively impact students’ service-learning experiences. To move forward as a field, we must address the failings of our past. Last, the framework identifies several pressures, some that apply to the general domain of teaching and learning, of which service-learning is a part, and others that are demands, constraints, and challenges specific to the practice of service-learning.

Following our discussion of the “three Ps,” the article offers some comments on “where to from here” in terms of the significant questions that remain for researchers and practitioners as the service-learning community moves forward together. As Furco and Kent (2016) have aptly stated, we are examining “a rapidly evolving field in which our approaches to the study and practice of service-learning and community engagement are being transformed” (p. 1). Members of the business and management discipline are an important part of this shift. This article intends to stimulate discussion, idea generation, critique, investigation, application, experimentation, and outcome dissemination on scholarship and shared best practice in service-learning.

The First P: Practice

The practice of service-learning is not as simple as it may appear. When utilized in its fullest and richest capacities, the practice of service-learning is complex and multidimensional. It is a form of experiential education designed to both integrate and connect service to learning, with a focus on the development of reciprocally beneficial relationships and a clear connection to the curriculum. To fully understand and explore service-learning practice, each of these key components are described in turn.

A Form of Experiential Education

In terms of experiential education, service-learning has its historical roots in the work of Dewey (1969), Freire (1970), Piaget (1976), and Kolb (1984). Barbara Jacoby (1996) highlights this connection in her seminal definition of service-learning as “a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together with structured opportunities intentionally designed to promote student learning and development” (p. 5). Andrew Furco (1996) extends this once again by differentiating service-learning from other types of experiential education in that service-learning activities have the “intention to equally benefit the provider and the recipient of the service as well as to ensure equal focus on both the service being provided and the learning that is occurring” (p. 6). Other definitions of service-learning focus on goals such as transformative learning (Fullerton, Reitenauer, & Kerrigan, 2015; Larson & Fay, 2016), civic engagement and civic responsibility (e.g., Bringle & Hatcher, 1995, 1999), values development (e.g., Delve, Mintz, & Stewart, 1990; Guitian, 2015), community strengthening (Fox, 2015), and moral management (e.g., Godfrey, 1999).

Reciprocity and Relationship

Although there is an important place for all types of student service experiences at the university level (e.g., community service, volunteering, civic engagement programs) where there are clear benefits to both the student and the community partner (Furco, 2001), our focus here is on those reciprocally beneficial service experiences that are clearly embedded into the curriculum. Reciprocity is particularly fundamental to service-learning as is the idea that service-learning is a level up from other types of community engagement. Service-learning experiences are designed to develop students’ understanding of a “civic personal and professional self” as they consider how to embed service into not only their personal but also their professional learning and environments. Service-learning experiences almost always extend the more typical community service of one day, or an isolated service experience, into one that is not only longer in duration but also where students are able to develop a deeper relationality and higher levels of reciprocity, shared learning, and mutual understanding with their community partners.

Integration and Connection to Curriculum

Service-learning is described as inherently integrative in that the two typically distinct experiences of service and learning must be clearly connected from the outset (Patton, 2012, p. 3). It is also a “boundary spanning” activity in that it requires active involvement from people both within and outside of the classroom context, often resulting in participant contributors who represent a variety of generations, ethnicities, social groups, and experience levels (Billig & Furco, 2002, p. vii). Service-learning is designed to reduce the boundaries between an institutional campus environment and the community around it. It is designed to connect learning to real experience through service and reflection (Ball & Schilling, 2006; Becker, 2000). As a baseline to facilitate this development, service-learning is distinct from other types of community service and civic engagement experiences in that the service-learning experience must not only have a service and reflective component, but must also be clearly tied to the curriculum through learning objectives and theoretical underpinnings (Bloomquist, 2015; Pritchard, 2001). As Barbara Holland, former Director of the U.S. National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, shared, “Service-learning is all in the hyphen. It is the enrichment of specific learning goals through structured community service opportunities that respond to community-identified needs and opportunities” (Kenworthy-U’Ren, Taylor, & Petri, 2006, p. 121).

Key Components Merged

This loose consensus of qualities has evolved over time from one in which service was seen as a stand-alone entity to one where service has become deeply embedded into our courses. It is the intentional and thoughtful connection to the curriculum, coupled with strategic and intentional reflection that has helped to secure service-learning’s transition “from a social movement to a more mainstream pedagogical method” (Beatty, 2010, p. 181). For readers who are interested in a comprehensive overview of this evolution, as well as exploring three models for conceptualizing and implementing service-learning in your courses, Beatty (2010) provides a detailed overview of the history of service-learning in the context of management education.

Guidelines for Service-Learning Practice in Management Education

In terms of guidelines for service-learning in management education, Godfrey, Illes, and Berry (2005) propose three key elements for successful service-learning experiences: reality, reflection, and reciprocity. The authors argue that service-learning experiences should be based in reality, meaning the projects have both real-world connections and consequences for the students. Projects should include a clearly defined reflective component, to connect the experience to the course content. Finally, projects should be designed with reciprocal benefits to both the students and the community partners as intended outcomes, rather than a focus on a unidirectional “giving” of service. Another framework for designing service-learning projects in management education courses is the Kenworthy-U’Ren and Peterson (2005) “WE CARE” approach. In their framework, service-learning projects must be welcomed by faculty members (rather than being forced on them as a way to meet institutional demands); projects must be evidence-based in terms of justification for how they fit into the curriculum and why students are being asked to engage in them; projects must also be complementary with respect to how they fit within the curriculum such that faculty members are able to seamlessly describe how they will heighten students’ learning beyond traditional classroom-based exercises; the projects should be action-oriented with students engaged in real-world projects in which they are providing a service resulting in tangible and/or measurable outcomes for their partner organization; this leads to the importance of projects being reciprocal in terms of clear and intentional benefits for both the students and the partner organizations; and finally projects should be epistemic with respect to having a focus on knowledge creation through a process of discussion and reflection.

The outcomes associated with using service-learning in business and management courses are overwhelmingly positive for students and with some noted benefits for faculty and communities. Service-learning has been integrated into a wide variety of business disciplines including information systems, management, marketing, accounting, and finance (Andrews, 2007; Martin, 2015). Service-learning has been linked to developing numerous personal and managerial skills for students such as content mastery (Casile, Hoover, & O’Neil, 2011), teamwork and communication (Govekar & Rishi, 2007), leadership (Dumas, 2002), diversity awareness (Govekar & Rishi, 2007), citizenship skills (Bamber & Hankin, 2011), and student retention (McKay & Estrella, 2008). (See Fisher, 2013 for a comprehensive review of outcomes associated with service-learning.) On the other side of the learning equation, studies have shown that service-learning also has benefits for faculty, including increased satisfaction with student learning, commitment to research, and learning assessment variety (Eyler, Giles, Stenson, & Gray, 2001; Prentice & Robinson, 2010). Additionally, at the institutional level, service-learning benefits colleges and universities in the areas of student retention and persistence and enhanced community relationships (Reed, Rosenberg, Statham, & Rosing, 2015) and community partners who gain valuable service from service-learning (Eyler et al., 2001).

Although there is a great deal of benefit that can come from service as a stand-alone experience, the practice of service-learning is designed to take the service experience to the next level of contextualization, into students’ personal and professional lives. There are certainly a number of ways to do this, as can be seen in the variety of structures for service-learning at the tertiary level. The classic form of service-learning that most people think of and utilize in their classes is one of local and regional service experiences falling within the confines of one semester and tied to a specific course. Other examples of service-learning project structures include global service-learning trips (Hogner & Kenworthy, 2010; also, for a comprehensive review see), service-learning full semester study abroad experiences (e.g., Parise, 2016), service-learning work placements and service-learning internships (e.g., Fellows, 2013). As with the single semester local service-learning project, each of the other structures has benefits and challenges.

This article focuses on the typical single-semester local and regional service-learning project experience. In this context, one must acknowledge that there will always be practical challenges related to the student service-learning experience. For example, Liu and Lin (2016) found that their graduate research students who were enrolled in a multicultural service-learning project experienced anxiety and anticipation prior to their service experiences as well as significant barriers throughout their service delivery. This is not unusual. They found that the reflective component of the graduate course, through which students kept reflection diaries and then shared and discussed them in class, was helpful to moderating these challenges. They also reported that students believed direct contact with the service recipients was helpful to their learning. Interestingly, and yet not surprisingly, the authors did not report the actual or perceived benefits of the 36-hour per student service commitment to the community partner organizations. This raises an ingrained and pervasive issue related to service-learning practice—the partner organizations are often labeled and treated as recipients only and not as partners in learning. It may be that the partner organizations received a significant benefit as a result of this service-learning project, but the simple fact that it was not discussed in the article as an important part of the storyline or outcomes speaks volumes. If service-learning instructors truly view their partners as equal partners in both service and learning, then effective communication, relationship building, and a listening to and sharing of their voices and perspectives should always be an integral part of the fabric of our discussions (Tryon, Hilgendorf, & Scott, 2009).

The Second P: Partnering

The partnership between academic institutions and community organizations is the cornerstone of service-learning. Without community partners, there would be no service experience to connect to learning. Historically, however, this critically important part of the service-learning project design is often the one that receives the least consideration and attention (McDonald & Dominguez, 2015). Community partner organizations are typically seen through a myopic lens, viewed simply as locations or sites that students can access to fulfill the required service component of their service-learning experiences. This is a far cry from viewing our partner organizations as environments filled with skilled, knowledgeable people who contribute to a rich and diverse tapestry bettering our communities.

As a representative commentary on this issue, in their book The Unheard Voices: Community Organizations and Service Learning, Stoecker and Tryon (2009) share the following, “Our goal in this book is to amplify the unheard voices of community organization staff in the service-learning relationship. Except in the individual relationships that they have with students and a small number of truly committed faculty, these voices have not been heard—and they have a lot to say” (p. vii). Throughout the chapters of their book, most of which were written by graduate students who were engaged in service-learning projects and the community partners with whom they worked, there are countless reflections on the issues raised with service-learning project design. These include, but are not restricted to, valuing and understanding diversity, effective communication between students and community partners, managing the calendar-related issues of a university timetable paired with community organizations’ timetables, exploring how much time should and could be invested in student development given the realistic constraints of their organizational commitment to the partners, finding the right fit between student and community partner (as opposed to the “one size fits all” approach), and balancing the needs of the partners with the needs of the students and faculty.

In one chapter, the authors present a set of “Principles for Success in Service Learning,” with a specific focus on issues related to partnerships (Hidayat, Pratsch, & Stoecker, 2009). They propose a set of three “Cs” of service-learning, each furthering the development of reciprocal and mutually beneficial partnerships between university and community—serving, as they call it, “the big ‘C’-community” side of the service-learning partnership (p. 148). The three Principles include commitment, communication, and compatibility. Commitment refers to the level of commitment given to the project by the academic and community partners. The authors stress that most service-learning faculty tend to focus their commitment on the institution and the students, rather than their community partners, isolating and prioritizing institutional and student outcomes above those of their community partners. The authors also discuss issues related to commitment in the context of that given by students to their community partners, “the variability in commitment from students makes service-learning a highly unpredictable investment for community organizations” (p. 150). The second “C,” communication, is a theme present throughout a number of chapters in the book as well as countless articles on how to structure effective service-learning partnerships (e.g., Hamer, 2007; Hogner & Kenworthy, 2010). Hidayat, Pratsch, and Stoecker see communication as an indicator of commitment, with effective and timely communication as a requirement for successful partnerships. This includes being clear about expectations, managing the project, responding to communications in a thorough and timely manner, including face-to-face meetings where possible, and sharing an interest in learning about each other with a particular focus on faculty members taking the time to learn about the community partner. Finally, their third “C” is for compatibility. This principle is best understood as an exploration of how well the students and the community partner organization “fit” together, which can be examined through a discussion of student motivation (i.e., why are they doing the project and what do they hope to gain from it—a resume line, or something more?), personality characteristics (e.g., students who are extremely shy may not work well in environments where they need to take the lead and direct others), receptivity to training (e.g., some community organizations require a set amount of hours of training before students are qualified to spend time there), and timing (e.g., an afterschool program would not be a good fit for a university student who has a rigid work schedule every afternoon).

The three Cs included here are excellent principles to use in the design and development of service-learning projects. As Hidayat, Pratsch, and Stoecker aptly state, “this project shows the results of our current institution-centric version of service-learning: too many organizations left dissatisfied with the outcomes of service-learning and too many communities underserved” (2009, p. 159).

The Third P: Pressures

Despite the strong and wide variety of empirical and normative support for service-learning, numerous societal and institutional pressures create powerful constraints for those using this approach or considering it in the future. These include the persisting knowledge hierarchy in academic publishing, increasing enrollment in business schools globally, the broadening scope of academic work, and continued influence of accreditation and institutional ranking as homogenizing forces in business schools. These macro-environmental demands shape our teaching realities—particularly for faculty members who take on innovative approaches such as service-learning (Butin, 2010). The following sections summarize these factors and their specific relationship to service-learning and offer specific ideas for further reading and resources to negotiate these barriers.

Publishing Hierarchy: Discovery Dominates

Most accredited business and management schools expect faculty to engage in research, teaching, and service—typically in that order. Research requirements vary dramatically based on the institution; however, it is well known that all “academically qualified” faculty in AACSB institutions are required to publish in qualified outlets, which are typically peer-reviewed publications (AACSB International, 2016, pp. 16, 40). This “publish or perish” mentality prioritizes research and by default minimizes efforts dedicated to teaching largely through the qualities prioritized in the promotion and tenure process (The Higher Education Academy, 2009). Over the last five decades, numerous studies from across disciplines and the globe indicate a clear shift from teaching to research (Vardi & Quin, 2011). Furthermore, the typical rewards structure in business schools and academia in general favors scholarship of discovery—the traditional view of scholarship focused on the discovery of new knowledge, information, and models—over the lesser known scholarship of teaching and learning—scholarship focused on the systematic study of best practices and innovations related to instruction (Arbaugh, Fornaciari, & Hwang, 2016; Boyer, 1990). The impact of these publishing demands on aspiring service-learning instructors results in helpful advice often given to untenured and junior faculty to manage time in order to maximize publication and avoid time-intensive teaching methods, such as service-learning, since these approaches do not count toward tenure and promotion at most institutions.

Massification and Diversification in Higher Education

The trend of rapidly increasing enrollment in tertiary education, massification, noted by Scott (1995) at the end of the 21st century, continues in both OECD countries and in emerging economies. Over the past five decades across the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, “half of 25–34-year-olds with upper secondary education had also attained tertiary education, while in 1965 the share was only 30%” (OECD, 2017). This broad development has resulted in teaching larger numbers of students, as well as a broader student population in terms of age, culture, life experience, and economic background (Biggs, 1999; Maringe & Sing, 2014). The dual factors of massification and diversification pose direct challenges to service-learning instruction, which is typically predicated on the assumption of smaller class sizes, and the “overarching assumption is that the students doing the service-learning are white, sheltered, middle-class, single, without children, un-indebted, and between ages 18 and 24” (Butin, 2006, p. 481), a demographic reality that is rapidly changing in the United States with increasing enrollment of working adults, older first-time undergraduates, and diverse learners. The implications for service-learning instructors are to identify possibilities of service-learning within large format courses, as well as creative and constructive strategies for considering the increasingly plural student population.

Accreditation and Ranking: Homogenization Forces

The emergence of business school accreditation such as AACSB, IACBE, and EQUIS, among others, has reinforced some level of standardization and assessment practices; however, the downside is the homogenizing impact on teaching practices, which is especially relevant to service-learning instructors. According to numerous critics, accreditation is thought to suppress innovation and adaptability (Julian & Ofori-Dankwa, 2006), restrict business education (Lowrie & Willmott, 2009), promote “a form of competitive mimicry leading to a degree of homogeneity amongst top B-schools” (Thomas, Billsberry, Ambrosini, & Barton, 2014, p. 317), and create barricades around “business schools and erod[ing] collaboration with other academic departments,” which in turn prevents joint collaboration around social value (Currie, Davies, & Ferlie, 2016, p. 8). Likewise, the practice of business school ranking encourages isomorphic practices elevating research over teaching (Wedlin, 2011; Wilson & McKiernan, 2011). Simply put, ranking measures typically skew towards reputational measures, and institutions often focus on categories like research rank evaluated by “high-quality” peer-reviewed articles, which to date do not include publications focused on management education (Pearce, 2016). This exclusion reflects the deeper marginalization of teaching discussed above. Logically rankings continue to bolster support for the publishing mandate and in turn diminish the value of teaching, thus making many academics skeptical about the highly intensive, resource-demanding engaged teaching practices required of service-learning.

A Way Forward: Alternative Rankings

While the most recognized accreditation and ranking regimes tend to skew faculty attention away from engaged teaching, a complementary ranking system that prioritizes community engagement does exist. The most well known in the United States is the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification. In 2008 the Carnegie Foundation, sponsor of the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, offered the alternative Community Engagement Classification. This elective classification is voluntary and defines community engagement as follows:

Community engagement describes collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.

The purpose of community engagement is the partnership of college and university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity; enhance curriculum, teaching and learning; prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good.

(NERCHE, n.d.)

This ranking provides service-learning scholars and instructors a network and reference group of 360+ institutions included in the Community Engagement Classification that have achieved some level of institutionalization of civic and engaged learning practices (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 2016). The litany of pressures sounds ominous, yet networks such as the example above offer faculty and institutions an alternative reference point. Additionally, three more emerging trends discussed in the following section suggest potential counter forces that support service-learning.

Where To From Here

There are two primary areas identified in this section intended to catalyze and stimulate future service-learning research and practice development within the management education domain. First, this section highlights significant issues related to how service-learning is framed both internally, to administrative staff, faculty, and students, and externally, to our community partners, community members, and other external organizations (e.g., accrediting and grant funding groups). In this vein, this section describes some areas where faculty and administrators can refocus their institutional attention, communication, and outreach in terms of promoting, connecting, and embedding service-learning in positive and productive ways. Second is a discussion of some of the historically consistent problems related to the design and execution of high-quality research and scholarship in the service-learning domain. Following this are suggested areas in which scholars can refocus their efforts to improve the validity and generalizability of results. Also, this section identifies issues related to the contextualization of service-learning research as part of the larger scholarship of management education. Finally, a series of questions is presented, designed to stimulate interest in service-learning scholarship and application. These questions are not offered as an exclusive list of all the areas ripe for future research but rather as indicators of areas in which there is much left to be explored and learned.

Reframing and Refocus

One central issue in terms of moving forward with service-learning lies is the way in which it is framed. The lenses service-learning instructors use to both create service-learning projects and connect them with all of their institutional, student, and community partner intended goals should change as the environment changes. For example, there are two nascent trends within higher education that promote alternative priorities for business schools’ mission, values, and objectives which further reinforce the utility and value of community-engaged teaching methods such as service-learning. Connecting these trends to service-learning and leveraging the aims, investments, and outcomes related to service-learning practice will help to establish service-learning as not only a legitimate but also, and importantly, a necessary teaching tool. The first of these nascent trends is the emergence of voluntary social and environmental standards such as the United Nations’ Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME) and the United Nations’ Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI). The foundations for each of these initiatives have clear ties to the moral, ethical, social, and environmental objectives found in many service-learning programs and projects. In fact, service-learning provides a perfectly tailored mechanism through which the main objectives of PRME and HESI can be applied, examined, and embedded into the student learning experience and shared institutional practices.

The second nascent trend includes the ongoing and increasing desire for higher education to better realize its third mission, which can be defined as the variety of knowledge-based activities in higher education that can impact the external environment (Glaser, O’Shea, & Chastenet de Gery, 2014). This includes activities such as research collaborations, policy development, services to the local economic environment, explicit knowledge transfer, tacit knowledge exchange, facilities, and economic and social initiatives. To date these types of activities are typically not included in most ranking or accreditation measures; however some expect this to change based on reforms and initiatives in the United Kingdom, European Union (EU), and France, such as the Research Excellence Framework (REF), the EU-funded E3M—European Indicators and Ranking Methodology for University Third Mission, and the Business School Impact Score (BSIS), respectively (Glaser, O’Shea, & Chastenet de Gery, 2015, 11–12). This third mission trend in higher education is clearly tied to the objectives and activities promoted in PRME and HESI—to increase the impact of business schools on society. Leading management scholars expect that globally, as the grand challenges facing humanity increase in intensity, this will push higher education institutions to foster wider and deeper engagement with the community through a variety of practices such as community-engaged research, and teaching such as service-learning (Tsui et al., 2017).

Framing issues related to how actors both view and describe service-learning can be seen not only with respect to institutional ties to external initiatives but also in our internal and external communications. For example, the way institutional members represent service-learning visually tends to be grossly simplistic and overly service based. Along these lines, Donahue, Fenner, and Mitchell (2015) present a thoughtful critique of how service-learning is regularly portrayed as charity-based by institutions on their websites and in their outreach materials. They ask “why are there so many pictures of young people gardening?” (p. 19) when looking through the results of their internet search on university service-learning websites. Their comments reflect the ingrained oversimplified and one-sided view of service-learning as that which involves a uni-directional service contribution from the student to the community partner. When done well, this could be no further from the truth in terms of the rich, mutual, and shared learning stemming from the multivariate contributions both given and received from all of the engaged parties—the students, faculty, and community partners. These scholars advocate that both faculty and administrators need to consider not only the content of our service-learning programs but also how to most accurately represent that content with others. This will involve service-learning instructors breaking out of silos to work with university members in areas like public outreach, marketing, and external affairs as well as community partners and students to creatively consider how best to represent the complexities of rich and embedded service-learning project work.

At the other end of the reframing and refocus spectrum, on a significantly less superficial and much harder to rectify note, service-learning scholars emphasize the need to address issues related to students’, partners’, and instructors’ about the meanings of service and learning. Changing entrenched beliefs involves the process of unlearning. With respect to service-learning, students and faculty often need to unlearn what they believe about the meaning of engaging in service—the idea that there is a giver and a receiver, each a part of a uni-directional framework of serving. This reductionist idea of service is tied to a larger destructive and myopic view of learning—the view that learning only exists inside the walls of the university. Service-learning provides students with the opportunity to figuratively and literally dismantle their ingrained beliefs regarding what it means to engage in service as well as the idea that they can only learn in the classroom. It gives them the space to explore the unknown—the reality that learning takes place everywhere, in and out of the classroom. It creates an opportunity for them to embrace learning as a constant. To embrace the idea that they can and should strive to always be learning, especially when it is from others who have had different life paths than their own. It is this institution-centric and self-centered approach to learning that needs reframing and refocusing. Some argue that this is the most important component driving a reconceptualization of service-learning. As Bargerstock and Bloomgarden (2016) share, “The inward focus of higher education research is a consequence of a range of factors, from the sector’s systemic prioritization of certain forms and locations of knowledge generation and production, to greater concern with impacts and outcomes for ‘insider’ constituencies (e.g., students and faculty) than for external ones that are secondary or non-existent priorities, to persistent power and resource inequities between institutions and communities” (p. 1). These issues will only be addressed if there is a targeted movement aimed at refocusing and reframing not only service-learning research but also, and arguably more importantly in some ways, service-learning practice.

Research, Rigor, and Contextualization

While no comprehensive survey of service-learning exists for management, it is a reasonable assumption to extrapolate from the Campus Compact Annual Member survey that service-learning is increasing in business schools since the reported rates of service-learning instruction among Campus Compact universities continues to rise each year (Campus Compact, 2014, 2015, 2016). Additionally, as mentioned earlier, the consistent stream of service-learning related publications in business and management disciplines over the past three decades supports this view. This base of management focused service-learning scholarship sets a foundation for further research needed to move the domain forward. However, as with most research domains, there are numerous issues that need to be addressed as we strive to create and disseminate high-quality systematic research on service-learning in management education.

The challenges of executing meaningful and rigorous service-learning research can be found across the disciplines (Reeb, 2010) as well as in management education. These challenges include, but are not limited to, the inability to use random assignment in many studies, unmeasured variables that may contribute to outcomes, lack of control or comparison groups in classes where service-learning is required, and self-selection bias given that in many institutional cases students choose to enroll in service-learning classes. Although these are not all present in every service-learning study, they are genuine methodological issues that need to be addressed and recognized as potential confounds in service-learning research (Holz & Pinnow, 2015). Another issue related to moving forward with research stems from questions about the external validity of most service-learning studies and the generalizability of findings across different student groups and institutional types (Taggart & Crisp, 2011). As Pearce (2016) describes in the context of business management education research “it is almost impossible to do ‘gold standard’ double-blind randomized experiments in the field” (p. 724). Such methodological concerns are increasingly important as premier management education journals are striving for legitimacy through articles that showcase novel ideas with rigorous arguments and analyses (Arbaugh et al., 2016; Rynes & Brown, 2011).

In light of the above, the prospect of engaging in service-learning research could be daunting to many. Do not be deterred. The challenges of executing rigorous research, and the increasing focus on legitimacy should not be seen as barriers to engaging in service-learning scholarship. Rather, we believe there has never been a better time to engage in research in this domain. Inspired by Arbaugh, Fornaciari, and Hwang’s (2016) article on using legitimation code theory to examine business and management education research, Kenworthy and Hrivnak (2016) ran a search on publications that went to print during the period 1970–2014, which included the term service-learning using Harzing’s (2013) Publish or Perish software. The result was a staggering 81,338 publications from across 998 different publications. Based on these results, there can be no doubt that there is a rich and multi-disciplinary stream of scholarship to use as the basis for future research on service-learning. In parallel, there is the emergence of a larger discussion about the importance of scholars whose focus is on research in business and management education (BME) (Arbaugh, 2016; Arbaugh et al., 2016; Brown, 2014). At the same time, there are scholars challenging the notion that legitimacy and rigor are the only determinants of quality in management education scholarship. For example, Antonacopoulou (2016) calls for a rediscovery of paideia (education), as a way to discover purposefulness and meaningfulness in our research. Alvesson and Sandberg (2013) encourage authors to break free of the dominant tendency to engage in “incremental gap spotting” in management research and, instead, focus on imaginative and innovative research (p. 128). Bridgman and Bell (2016), in their critique of legitimacy as a research standard, comment on the value of “contestation and challenge to existing assumptions” in management education research (p. 697). In a concluding comment, they share the following positive reflection regarding scholarship in business management education: “We need not feel inferior to other fields within management and organization studies. Indeed, we have good reason to believe we might be viewed with envy by them” (p. 698).

Questions Derived From the Three Ps

Based on the themes, challenges, and opportunities identified in the Three Ps, this conclusion offers a variety of important questions with the intention to drive future research, be it quantitative, qualitative, mixed methods, or action. The first five questions focus on course-level practice issues and the balance examine institutional level pressures:

  1. 1. What are innovative best practices for incorporating service-learning within hybrid and fully-online management courses?

  2. 2. How might service-learning be utilized within large classroom settings?

  3. 3. What distinctions and adaptations are needed for graduate level service-learning instruction?

  4. 4. How can management service-learning courses be adapted for adult-learners vs. traditional undergraduates?

  5. 5. How well do the Hidayat et al. (2009) Principles for Success in Service-Learning apply to the development and ongoing maintenance of reciprocally-oriented, long-term, mutually beneficial, and respectful partnerships with community organization members in management education courses?

  6. 6. What are additional institutional measures that we should implement to increase the quality and sustainability of our university-community partnerships?

  7. 7. How do service-learning instructors at various levels and types of institutions counteract the powerful institutional norms and pressures regarding accreditation and homogenization?

  8. 8. What policies and practices from engaged campuses promote high-quality scholarship and high-impact teaching practices like service-learning?

  9. 9. What epistemological, ontological, and methodological assumptions need updating and revising to create holistic student evaluation of teaching metrics that capture service-learning pedagogy and andragogy?

  10. 10. How might faculty evaluation and reward systems in business schools be revised and expanded to consider the unique features of engaged scholarship and engaged teaching such as service-learning?

  11. 11. How could accreditation, ranking, and assessment systems (i.e., Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) in the United States, UK Framework) dimensions incorporate features that value and measure engaged learning practices?

  12. 12. How can we best incorporate and leverage external social and environmental standards and initiatives like PRME, at the institutional and faculty levels, to increase the quality of our teaching and learning practices?

This list of questions is only the beginning, offered as fodder for extending thinking and exploration regarding future research in the service-learning domain. As with many aspects of management learning and education, research confidently supports the efficacy of service-learning yet as a growing field of practice there continually are more questions than answers guiding our path forward. The field is firmly established yet with a “strength and legitimacy” that service-learning educators need to individually and collectively work to maintain (Hatcher & Bringle, 2012, p. xix). To encourage that process, this article shares the “Three Ps” of service-learning—practice, partnering, and pressures—with the hope that they will serve as catalysts for stimulating an interest and enthusiasm for future investigations and experimentation in service-learning research and practice. It is only when our actions are truly informed by “critical lenses on reciprocity, sustainability, and mutuality” (Bargerstock & Bloomgarden, 2016, p. 1), that the domain of service-learning in management education will progress. There is no doubt that as members of the management education community we each have the capacity to engage these lenses and move forward with service-learning research and practice together.


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