What is Community-Based Transformational Learning?


The University of North Florida (UNF) selected Community-Based Transformational Learning (CBTL) as the topic for its Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). This selection is reflective of UNF's longstanding and ongoing commitment to active community engagement as expressed in its mission: UNF will prepare students “to make significant contributions to their communities in the region and beyond." It also serves as the focal point of UNF’s institutional goal to “affirm the University's public responsibility through civic engagement and community-based learning and research.”


The idea of Community-Based Transformational Learning (CBTL) builds on and extends several ongoing University initiatives integral to UNF‘s commitment to students. These initiatives include the institution‘s:

  • Transformational Learning Opportunity (TLO) program;
  • international studies programs;
  • and other community-based work being carried out in some departments, colleges and nonacademic units.

Most important, experiences that are considered Community-Based Transformational Learning (CBTL) require a level of direct and in-depth student participation, which may result not only in the expected student learning outcomes, but also in student contributions to the communities being served.


Key Working Definitions


The phrase “community-based” refers to forms of university activity in community settings beyond the campus that may be local, regional, or global and is characterized by an exchange between the community and university of resources in the context of partnership and reciprocity.

Transformational Learning

The phrase “transformational learning,” sometimes also referred to as “deep learning,” refers to outcomes related to “high impact educational practices.”  Deep learning refers to learning “that takes root in our apparatus of understanding, in the embedded meanings that define us and that we use to define our world.” (Tagg, J. 2003. The learning paradigm college. Bolton, MA: Anker.)  Examples of deep learning include reflective, integrative and higher order learning.  Common “high impact” educational practices include:

  • first-year seminars and experiences;
  • common intellectual experiences (e.g.,  general education programs that include advance integrative studies);
  • participation in learning communities;
  • collaborative assignments and projects;
  • undergraduate research;
  • diversity and global learning;
  • service learning;
  • internships and capstone courses and projects.

(Kuh, G. (2008). High-Impact Educational Practices. Washington, D.C.: AAC&U)

Community-Based Transformational Learning

Community-based transformational learning refers to intentionally designed, coordinated and executed learning experiences in community-based settings that enhance participants’ academic learning, contribute to their personal growth and increase their civic engagement while concurrently benefiting the community or communities in which these activities are embedded. 


At UNF, our CBTL activities take place through 5 major categories of community-based learning:

To help faculty and staff decide which type of community-based learning experience is best for their students, we've labeled the categories as introductory, intermediate, or advanced based on certain dimensions like level of student readiness, amount of preparation, type and duration of the engagement, and reflection strategies. You can see a description of each level here.