A learning community is a group of people who share common values and beliefs and are actively engaged in learning from each other. These communities have become a model for a cohort-based approach to higher education.
Although there are a variety of approaches to learning communities, many promote shared authority and acceptance of responsibility among group members for the group’s actions. The underlying philosophy of governance within a learning community is consensus building and identifying common ground for action.
A learning community fosters cooperation between group members in contrast to communities in which individuals attempt to “best” other group members.
Learning communities intentionally structure the students’ time and learning experiences to build community and to cultivate deeper connections among students, staff and faculty.
Learning Strategies of Learning Communities
As mentioned, learning communities are very diverse but learning strategies within learning communities commonly include:
- Student-centered discussions
- Student-led learning experiences
- Problem-based learning
- Critical thinking approaches
- Collaborative projects
- Service and civic learning projects
- Co-curricular activities: on/off campus
- Common goals, pedagogies
- Common themes, topics
- Community recognition
Benefits of a Learning Community
Research has shown that students learn best when they are actively involved in the learning experience. Students learn more of what is taught, and retain it longer, when working in small groups rather than other instructional formats.
What’s more, further research has shown that learning community practices increase student retention and academic achievement, foster student involvement and motivation, improve student time to degree completion and enhance student intellectual development.
Students involved in learning communities become more responsible for their own learning and develop the capacity for caring about the learning of their peers (Washington Center for Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Education, 2006).