Community-based learning has a rich tradition of theory, scholarship, and activism. A notable early example was Jane Addams and her work at Hull House at the turn of the century. She worked with recent immigrants in Chicago to identify and solve most pressing problems in their lives. Hull House was not just about solving problems, it was intentional in creating rich learning opportunities for residents and making advances in social knowledge. Indeed, Addams came to see Hull House as a "sociology laboratory." CU Engage builds on this tradition and hopes to advance the cutting edge of theory and practice for the twenty-first century. 

Community-based learning takes a variety of forms depending on context and the participants. CU-Engage offers the following working definition:

Community-based learning is an intentional pedagogical strategy to integrate student learning in academic courses with community engagement. This work is based on reciprocal and mutually beneficial partnerships between instructors, students, and community groups. The goal is to address community-identified needs and ultimately create positive social change. Critical reflection is an essential component of community-based learning; it serves to enhance students' learning of course content, understanding of the community, and sense of civic agency.

Core CU Engage programs are all examples of community-based learning. In Public Achievement, CU undergraduates work with teams of young people at area public schools on public work projects designed to make a positive impact on the lives of young people. INVST Community Scholars engage in a range of engagement activities with community members in Boulder, Rio Grande City, Texas and internationally. Similarly, Puksta Scholars design and carry out a yearlong civic engagement project through reciprocal partnerships with community-based agencies.