Community-Based Learning

Part of the Experience 2025 Strategic Plan is to “infuse work-based learning and community-based learning in 100% of associate and technical diploma programs by 2025.” With a student-centered focus, we aim to connect the college with the community for the purpose of fulfilling community needs while giving students a deeper academic experience.

What is Community-Based Learning?

Community-Based Learning (CBL) engages students in a purposeful and immersive approach to their learning while working closely with their instructor to develop valuable skills and strengthen the communities Western serves.

CBL goes beyond students volunteering. CBL enables students to apply what they are learning in the classroom to improve the community, build self-awareness, and develop professional skills. Effective CBL includes reflection before, during, and after to help students think critically about their experience or the social issue while incorporating individual civic and social responsibility connections throughout.

CBL Levels

Community Explorer

  • Explore social justice issues related to career area, professional role & individual capacity for involvement (unions, committees, city/county boards, state organizations, etc.)
  • Complete volunteer activities with a community partner


Volunteer for 4 hours, attend an employer spotlight and explore employer’s sustainability efforts & community engagement – all with added reflection assignments embedded.

Community Educator

  • Raise awareness or provide education around a social justice issue


Social media posts or electronic materials raising awareness, tabling in the Union Market, food drives, creating a lesson plan & presenting to a community partner/group – all with added reflection assignments about how these activities impact the social justice issue before & after.

Community Builder

  • Solve a problem for a community partner, create a product, or plan an event around a social justice issue, build community action & provide clear moments for students to reflect on their role in the larger community & how it connects to their career field.


Suits for Success, Student Run Help Desk, videos for community partners, website or app development for community partner, employee engagement survey & recommendations to a community partner – all with added reflection assignments before, during, * after asking students to think critically about their experience.

For specific examples of ways Western faculty have incorporated CBL in their curriculum, check out the Western Engaged Annual Reports.

Why CBL?

CBL’s overall goal is to:

  • Create a deeper understanding of the subject matter through hands-on learning and self-reflection
  • Empower students as learners, teachers, leaders, and advocates to use their education for the betterment of their communities
  • Expand awareness of the community and social issues and how to get actively involved in complex issues

How do I integrate CBL into my course?

The great thing about CBL is there is no one way to integrate CBL into a course. CBL can be flexible and adapted to fit your course competencies and needs. Visit the CBL Guide for some suggested ways to get started!

CBL Competencies are available in WIDS to serve as a template for embedding a community-based learning activity into a course.


UGetconnected is a local platform funded by Western Technical College, Great Rivers United Way, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and Viterbo University. Using your Western login credentials
(Western email and password), you can use the online platform to do several things:

  • Connect (yourselves and your students) to community needs and service opportunities.
  • Learn more about the 160+ agencies in our community.
  • Track community service hours, community-based learning hours, VLTO hours and other community engagement activity.
  • Export a service resume that captures all community-based activity hours.

UGetConnected Resources to Share with Students

If you’re interested in learning more about Western’s UGetConnected platform, please reach out to the Department of Equity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement by emailing or calling 608-789-6191. We are happy to present in classes or provide resources and guides for students.

Required Activity Documents


All faculty are asked to complete the short Community Partner Survey each term to share which community partner(s) and/or employer(s) they worked with that term and for what course.

We encourage faculty to have their students track volunteer and community-based learning hours on Western’s UGetConnected platform, however it is not required. The focus of CBL shouldn’t be on hours or number of activities, but rather what the students are taking away from the experience.

Resources for Students


Students often don’t think about listing course-based experiences on their resume. Encourage them to write about their CBL experiences similar to how they’d list other involvement and work experience.

Resources for Faculty


Need some ideas for how to integrate reflection into your classroom? Check out Deepening the Learning in Service-Learning: Reflection Resources and Activities (PDF) for ideas on the types of activities or questions you can ask students to think about. Additionally, feel free to reach out to Equity, Inclusion, & Community Engagement to lead an activity or discussion in one of the following reflection activities:

  • Pre- and post-service reflection
  • Professionalism
  • Active Listening
  • Sharing Power
  • Team Building
  • Strengths Finder Assessment & Reflection

Need Assistance?

We want to help you integrate community-based learning into your course/program, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us for help and support. Feel free to contact us via phone, email, or by simply dropping into The SPACE located in Room 222 of the Student Success Center to chat.

Julie Christensen
Community-Based Learning Specialist


NOTE: Work-based learning differs from community-based learning. However, sometimes these experiences are similar. Work-based learning is a structured learning experience which takes place in a workplace setting. This is a categorical word for field experience, clinical, practicum, internship, job shadow, etc.