Apr 15, 2013

Service Learning Canvas

I have the honor of helping Blueprint High School in developing an innovative Service Learning (SL) program. In general, Project Based Learning (PBL), which Service Learning (SL) is a sub-category of, offers the great promise for deeper learning and developing 21st Century Skills. Yet, PBL and SL take antiquated and heavy approaches. It expects heavy upfront planning, command and control project management, and a 20th century silo approach of chopping up roles and responsibilities. This makes it  difficult to implement with the short time schools have available and inhibits the learning of 21st Century Skills like Collaboration and Creativity.  Assessment of the project usually comes at the end, often too late to make any changes if it is discovered that the learning and project goals are not being met. Teachers often complain that PBL takes too long and takes too much time to prepare for, regardless of how excited they are to use it as a strategy. By taking a native 21st century approach, we deliver value and validate learning in short iterations, each time learning and steering. We plan, work, learn, and validate in small chunks of time. The worst case, if the project has to be canceled due to other pressing concerns, each week you have actually accomplished  visible learning and project goals, that can be used by the community and students. We are developing a Service Learning approach that uses Agile, Lean, and Customer Development methods to develop extreme readiness for the 21st Century

As I think about the approach to SL, the first step is to identify the Service Learning Model.  In essence, what is the problem we are out to help solve and the what is our approach in solving it. Borrowing from the Business Model Generation, I quickly drafted the Service Learning Canvas, inspired by the Business Model Canvas, that many of today's startups and entrepreneurial companies are using to innovate and learn rapidly.

The idea behind the Service Learning Canvas is that we do not start with a big upfront plan, but rather a set of  hypothesis that we will set out to validate.  We develop the Service Learning Model, then use Agile to test the hypothesis of the impact to the community in short cycles. At the end of that cycle, we review to see if we are on the right track, and update the Service Model Canvas. Instead of heavy upfront planning with lots of big assumptions that are usually wrong, we do lots of small planning and small assumptions, and use the scientific method to discover the right path. In addition, with each small cycle, we deliver value to the community and get feedback on the learning goals of the students, without having to wait to the end of the semester or year.

As usual, I am short on time. I will complete and revise this post later when I get some slack time and describe how to use the canvas. For now, please send in comments, questions and feedback!

John Miller
Learning Rightshifter


  1. Your timing is wonderful! I say that because I am working on a proposal for adult learners to develop a shared vision that positively impacts society, but my big issue is how to help them through that process effectively as busy working adults. This canvas certainly does that. I'm very anxious to hear more on how you use it.

  2. I love how this is related to the Scientific Method of learning and that students can create their hypothesis (aka the service learning project) and utilize agile concepts to collaborate and self organize their team to then discover how best they want to approach this. The great thing with agile is the constant feedback and analysis gained as well as timely tangible results to evaluate.


Thank you for contributing to The Agile School blog!
John Miller