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Service Learning

Service Learning is a powerful way to link head, heart and hands in the service of creating a better world for all. In this section of the website we find content that breaks open what Service Learning really is as a powerful professional tool for mindset and heartset change.

The processes at work in Service Learning

The article above is a summary of the psychological processes at work in Service Learning. A knowledge of these processes assist in making Service Learning more effective and especially ensure that the ‘learning’ in Service Learning takes places.

Doctoral research

In 1999 Anthony Ryan and myself engaged with the students of St Joseph’s College,  Gregory Terrace in Brisbane, Australia. Anthony had lived and worked in a Catholic Worker community in the USA and I had spent time with the Cana Community at Surry Hills in Sydney working with the homeless. We felt that the students would benefit from being in respect filled reciprocal relationship with those who call the streets home. Initially we had a hospitality van as part of Rosies Youth Mission (a ministry of the Oblate Fathers). After twelve months we set up our own van ministry hoping to honour the founder of the Brothers – Blessed Edmund Rice. Many parents affirmed Anthony and myself and the boys loved the ministry. But I was still to be convinced often asking myself, “Were we just a ‘feel good’ ministry using the poor for our own benefit?” Whose needs were getting met here? So I began a Doctor of Philosophy degree looking at the meaning making that was taking place among the students as they engaged with the homeless. You will find the thesis here. It is a long thesis because much space is given to ‘giving voice’ to the students in the midst of their experience.

Br Damien Price Ph D Thesis 

Social Justice Card Game Cards

Social Justice Card Game

The Social Justice Card Game is simply a set of playing cards that contain many of the key concepts and ideology for a holistic approach to Service Learning. One of the attachments above is the set of cards themselves, the other is a ‘guide’ that breaks their meaning open. Over time practitioners may wish to come up with their own set of cards or even better, invite their students to engage in this activity.

Critical Questions Service Learning

Social analysis and Critical thinking are core to the ‘learning’ in Service Learning. We want to engage the Civic Identity of youth. We want to challenge their ‘world view’ and to invite them to embrace their agency: their ability (and mission) to make this a better world for all. The link above contains some critical thinking questions (and statements) that may set the practicioner off on this truly educational journey. Of course, the best analysis and critical thinking is that which comes from within and from your own experience.

Semantic Memory
Episodic Memory

The Semantic Memory  is the memory storehouse containing the mind-maps, concepts, ideas and information / knowledge gleaned from personal experience.

The Episodic Memory is the memory moment that focuses on the immediate experience and its associated feelings, connections and thoughts.

In Service Learning we ‘learn’ when we identify a particular concept – such as ‘coming into relationship with the other as a guest’ – and we place it into the Semantic Memory. We then engage with experiences in the Episodic memory with that concept at the back of our minds. We then reflect upon our experience through the lens of the concept. Through this interaction our world view changes, we grow our civic identity and we learn.

Engaging with concepts - the path to 'learning' in Service Learning

Cause – Effect Matrix SL

The danger in Service Learning is that we go out and just ‘do’. Our doing may have the very opposite effect from that we are hoping for. The learning in Service Learning occurs when we place a desired concept into the Semantic Memory, experience it in the Episodic Memory and reflect on that interaction. The resource attached above names the causal influences that students working with the homeless were able to identify after six months of building relationship and serving with the homeless of inner city Brisbane. The core concept here is ‘Cause and effect’. Ideally in an effective SL program students would experience the same concept (cause and effect) linked to a difference set of circumstances – eg Refugees or Asylum Seekers or pollution. When students engage with a concept linked to one set of circumstances and reflect upon it and then engage with the same concept in a different set of circumstances and reflect upon it – the concept becomes quite deeply owned. We say the concept has gained a psycho-cognitive strength.

Service Learning ideas that work

The ideas in the booklet attached (below) cover a wide variety of elements of a school’s culture, curriculum and direct Service Learning programs. Each idea comes from a practitioner in the field and they ‘work’. Of course the best ‘ideas’ are ones that come from the professional’s own experience and skill set. These ideas are provided to encourage lateral thinking and creative engagement. Service Learning Ideas that Work – Master Class 2022 .

Cultural and curriculum mapping

For Service Learning to be truly effective and transformational it must be reflected in the culture and the curriculum of the community. The concepts deliberately and professionally engaged with directly in the Service program need to be also experienced in the culture and curriculum of the community. The attached matrix (below) is ONE small example of how this could look. Service Learning Program Experience Mapping 2022 Master Class

The following series of short films break open the basic psychological processes at play within Service Learning. These films focus on the two words, SERVICE and LEARNING. Too often students engage in ‘service’ that can be patronising and possibly even do damage or limit the world view of the student. We are grateful to Lutheran Education Australia for the sponsoring of the production of these films.

Part 1: How does one learn?

In this first short film we look at how we learn and especially how do we learn through experience. The interplay between what we deliberately place into the Semantic Memory and what the participant experiences in their Episodic Memory is core to the Learning in Service Learning.

Part 2: Forming the Semantic Memory

The second part of this film series looks at how we populate the Semantic Memory with the core values and associated concepts that we wish the student to engage with. Heightened experiences – deliberately targeted experiences that focus on an element of Service Learning and Normative experiences – where the values are woven through the day to day life of the community are also looked at.

Part 3: What are the psychological processes at play in Service Learning?

This film looks at the psychological processes at play in Service Learning. Conscious awareness raising, Anticipatory cognition, Active cognition, our Spirituality, cause and effect, social analysis and theological reflection and more populate the Semantic Memory. The film breaks open what is happening within the Episodic memory; focusing on particular stimuli, their feelings, core questions, where things do not make sense etc. The phases at play within an experience are also broken open.

Part 4: The role of the Mentor in Service Learning

This final film looks at the core spirituality at play in Service Learning; coming as guest, the innate dignity of the other, choosing to be deeply present, allowing our hearts to open in compassion leading to liberation. Following this the film examines what the vital role of the mentor is if the student is to deeply learn.

Pictures with the heart

This final film in the Service Learning series looks at the power of service, the power of relationship and the mind sets and hearts sets that the volunteer needs. Through the film we meet many people who have spent time building relationship with the poor and learning from these relationships. This film invites the viewer to see that the world is often not as it should be – and that each of us has the gifts and ability to make a difference.

EH2 Service Learning: Master Class

The Service Learning Master Class is a two day Professional Development opportunity aimed at upskilling professionals in the school setting to more effectively engage with Service Learning. Please see the Encounter the Heart Calendar for the dates of these programs in 2022. This Professional Development opportunity will:

  • Examine the psychological processes at play within Service Learning
  • Identify the key processes for LEARNING within Service Learning
  • Examine Models of Service Learning
  • Grow awareness of the importance of concepts for effective Service Learning
  • Looking at Service Learning programs
  • Introduce possible Service Learning curriculum mapping strategies
  • Look at reflection upon experience models and best practice
  • Examine the role of direct experience, the mentor, the ideological (theological) framework and critical thinking for transformational change


Dates: the Service Learning Master Class will be offered three times during 2022. Each offering is a two day Professional Development experience to allow time for the skills and insights to go to greater depth. The dates are;
March 15th and 16th 
August 16th and 17th 
August 30th and 31st 
Register via email to