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Defining Features

The fundamental structural move in learning communities is to...release the powers of human association. Learning communities put people together and give them time and space—real time and space—to learn from each other.
Patrick Hill

Learning communities done well can make a significant difference in student outcomes, as well as increasing student engagement and improving the quality of students’ learning experiences.

In one form or another, learning communities operate at hundreds of two- and four-year institutions throughout the United States. They serve a wide range of students with diverse needs and aspirations.

Learning communities have been developed to address all areas of the curriculum, from pre-college or developmental courses—sometimes in combination with college-level work—to honors programs and gateway courses to upper-division classes.

For several decades educators have agreed that learning communities—whether newly minted or long established—need to include, at minimum, the following three components:

  • A strategically-defined cohort of students taking courses together which have been identified through a review of institutional data
  • Robust, collaborative partnerships between academic affairs and student affairs
  • Explicitly designed opportunities to practice integrative and interdisciplinary learning

Educators also agree that the purpose of a learning community program needs to be informed by and tied to broader institutional goals.

Implementation of learning communities varies among institutions. Some campuses focus on creating cohorts, some focus on creating lots of integrative assignments, and others focus on developing strong partnerships between academics and student affairs. Working on any one of these components is worthwhile, but when they are integrated and tied to the institution’s mission and goals, learning communities become a powerful intervention strategy for student success.