by Stephanie T. Stokamer & Patti H. Clayton
Perhaps most fundamentally, the raison d’etre for service-learning and community engagement (SLCE)—the upshot of the range of answers to the “why SLCE” question explored in the second blog post—is civic learning. Consensus is emerging that cultivating the knowledge, skills, attitudes, perspectives, and identities required for healthy communities and a vibrant democracy is a significant—if not the most crucial—answer to the “why SLCE” question. The paradigm of democratic engagement, in which all participants in SLCE are understood to be co-learners, encourages us to value—indeed, design for—civic learning among all partners.
As indicated in the first post in this series SLCE is widely understood to include three defining categories of learning—academic learning, civic learning, and personal growth. Although defined in a wide variety of ways (a few of which we will highlight here), civic learning outcomes refer generally to capacities within individuals and communities to envision a better world and to enact change accordingly, particularly in terms of justice and democracy.
The Venn diagram makes clear that these three categories of learning goals that define SLCE are both distinct and overlapping, producing four domains of learning that are related to the civic: (a) civic learning, (b) civic learning-academic learning, (c) civic learning-personal growth, and (d) the triple intersection of civic learning-academic learning-personal growth. This framework can be a helpful way to organize your thinking about what “civic” means as a category of learning. For example, “a” might refer to the workings of government, the processes of public policy making, the dynamics of social movements, or the skills of community building (in disciplines for which such topics are not academic content); “b” might include critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and the “public purposes and social responsibilities of professional education and practice” (Saltmarsh, 2005, p. 52); “c” might include understanding the assumptions and behavioral tendencies one brings to change-oriented collaboration with diverse others; and “d” would integrate learning about the self and about public processes with disciplinary theories and models.
John Saltmarsh (2005) suggests that “civic learning will be defined differently depending upon disciplinary perspective, the identity and mission of the institution, the academic strengths on campus, and the unique social environment of the local communities” (p. 53). SLCE practitioner-scholars, however, must have a sufficiently clear sense of our desired civic learning outcomes to guide design and implementation so as to effectively generate such learning. We share here four frameworks for conceptualizing civic learning that we hope will serve as useful resources in this effort.

Framework #1

Rick Battistoni (2002) lays out 12 frameworks for defining citizenship and associated civic learning goals in various academic disciplines, suggesting such patterns as the following:

Framework #2

The construct of the civic-minded graduate (CMG; Steinberg, Hatcher, & Bringle, 2011) consists of 10 desired learning outcomes, including:

  • understanding of how knowledge and skills in at least one discipline are relevant to addressing the issues in society;
  • understanding of current events and the complexity of issues in modern society locally, nationally, or globally;
  • ability to communicate (written and oral) with others, as well as listening to divergent points of view,
  • ability to work with others, including those with diverse opinions, and work across difference to come to an agreement or solve a problem);
  • having a desire to take personal action, with a realistic view that the action will produce the desired results;

Framework #3

In Healing the Heart of Democracy, Parker Palmer (2011) sketches five “habits of the heart that make democracy possible” (excerpted here):

  1. An understanding that we are all in this together. … Despite our illusions of individualism … we humans are a profoundly interconnected species—entwined with one another and with all forms of life, as the global economic and ecological crises reveal in vivid and frightening detail. We must embrace the simple fact that we are dependent on and accountable to one another
  2. An appreciation of the value of “otherness.” … we spend most of our lives in “tribes” or lifestyle enclaves … thinking of the world in terms of “us” and “them” is one of the many limitations of the human mind. The good news is that “us and them” does not need to mean “us versus them.” … the stranger has much to teach us.
  3. An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. Our lives are filled with contradictions—from the gap between our aspirations and our behavior to observations and insights we cannot abide because they run counter to our convictions. If we fail to hold them creatively, these contradictions will shut us down and take us out of the action.
  4. A sense of personal voice and agency. Insight and energy give rise to new life as we speak and act, expressing our version of truth while checking and correcting it against the truths of others.
  5. A capacity to create community. Without a community, it is nearly impossible to achieve voice … Without a community, it is nearly impossible to exercise the “power of one” in a manner that multiplies … In a mass society like ours, community rarely comes ready-made.

Framework #4

Increasingly, intercultural competence (ICC) is being thought of as an especially important sub-category of civic learning goals. Darla Deardorff (2004) provides a research-grounded list of several widely accepted aspects of ICC, including, by way of example:

  • Respect (valuing other cultures)
  • Openness (to intercultural learning and to people from other cultures)
  • Tolerance for ambiguity
  • Flexibility (in using appropriate communication styles and behaviors; in intercultural situations)
  • Curiosity
  • Withholding judgment
  • Understanding others’ worldviews
  • Skills to listen
  • Empathy
  • Communication skills (appropriate AND effective communication in intercultural settings)

A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future notes that, nationwide, “a robust approach to civic learning is provided to only a minority of students” (p. 2) and calls for the transformation of American higher education accordingly. Through well-structured critical reflection on a both carefully selected and serendipitous experiences and readings (and other materials), SLCE can be designed to generate, deepen, and document civic learning once we know, in any given context, what we mean by such learning goals (see Stokamer & Clayton, 2017 for discussion of course design for civic learning).


  • Battistoni, R. M. (2002). Civic engagement across the curriculum. Providence, RI: Campus Compact.
  • Deardorff, D. K. (2004). Internationalization: In search of intercultural competence. International Educator, 8(2), 13–15.
  • National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement. (2012). A crucible moment: College learning & democracy’s future. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. Available at
  • Palmer, P. J. (2011). Healing the heart of democracy: The courage to create a politics worthy of the human spirit. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Saltmarsh, J. (2005). The civic promise of service‐learning. Liberal Education, 91(2), 50-55.
  • Steinberg, K., Hatcher, J. A., & Bringle, R. G. (2011). A north star: Civic-minded graduate. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 18(1), 19-33.
  • Stokamer, S. T., & Clayton, P. H. (2017). Civic design for civic learning. In J. A. Hatcher, R. G. Bringle, & T. Hahn, (Eds.), Research on student civic outcomes in service learning: Conceptual frameworks and methods (pp. 45-65). Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Stephanie Stokamer ( is the director of the Center for Civic Engagement and an assistant professor at Pacific University. She leads implementation of an academic civic engagement requirement, including facilitating a community of practice and professional development opportunities for all partners in civic engagement, managing curricular oversight, nurturing a campus culture of engagement, and assessing outcomes. She is also committed to advancing equity on campus and in communities.
Patti H. Clayton ( is an SLCE consultant (PHC Ventures,, a Senior Scholar with IUPUI and UNCG, and a Visiting Senior Scholar with Kansas State University. She facilitates professional and organizational development, co-produces practice-oriented scholarly resources, and is currently co-facilitating the international Service-Learning and Community Engagement Future Directions Project (SLCE-FDP;
Note: This is the third in a series of blog posts. Check in regularly to learn more about and contribute to discussion of foundational knowledge, promising practices, helpful resources, and future directions of SLCE.

How to cite this post:

Stokamer, Stephanie and Patti H. Clayton. 2017, February 22. Civic Learning. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from