Becoming productive 21st century citizens: A systematic review uncovering design principles for integrating community service learning into higher education courses

Geertje Tijsma*, Femke Hilverda, Aukelien Scheffelaar, Sven Alders, Linda Schoonmade, Nadine Blignaut, Marjolein Zweekhorst

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Background: To prepare students to become productive 21st century citizens, universities have to be more engaged with society. Shifting towards community service learning (CSL) enables students to participate in, and reflect on, services that both benefit the public and also contribute to their own learning. There has been considerable research conducted on the improved student competencies, both academic and personal, resulting from CSL. There is, however, no consensus on how to integrate CSL into courses successfully, owing to the diverse contextual factors that influence implementation. Purpose: By means of conducting a review, this study aimed to establish general design principles to help guide course coordinators in implementing CSL in their academic courses. Design and methods: A systematic review was conducted of articles describing the implementation of CSL in academic courses within various disciplines. Implementation elements and principles were extracted from the articles and inductively grouped together, thereby identifying various design principles. Findings: Our analysis of the literature highlighted three steps that, according to the literature, are important in the implementation of CSL: (1) aligning course objectives and format; (2) establishing a relationship with the community partner; and (3) defining a reflection and evaluation strategy. We found that the nature of the design principles and specific approaches underlying these implementation steps should depend on the students’ capabilities, which include their pre-CSL experiences. Conclusion: The implementation steps and underlying design principles uncovered by this review may help guide and support course coordinators in their efforts to integrate CSL in their academic courses. The diverse range of design principles makes it possible to acknowledge students’ pre-CSL experiences and, thus, construct appropriate scaffolding, which is necessary for students to attain the improved academic and personal competencies envisaged through CSL, and ultimately to become productive 21st century citizens.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)390-413
Number of pages24
JournalEducational Research
Issue number4
Early online date3 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • 21st century competencies
  • citizenship
  • Community service learning
  • course implementation
  • design considerations
  • higher education
  • scaffolding


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