New Era LCs
These classes incorporate into your life and into your learning. It becomes part of your thinking. It just keeps connecting, and connecting, and connecting.
From 1985 to the present, Washington Center has used “learning communities” to describe a variety of approaches to curricular reform that depart from the usual pattern of teachers teaching separate classes in separate subjects to separate groups of students.
Early editions of the Washington Center newsletter include accounts of the wonderfully inventive learning communities designed by faculty and academic staff. The degree of curricular integration varied as did the amount of collaboration among faculty and those involved in the teaching team, including full and part-time faculty, counselors, student affairs professionals, librarians, and peer mentors.
In 1994, the Collaborative Learning Project—the first longitudinal study on the impact of learning communities on student learning in higher education—introduced a broader audience to the academic and social benefits of learning communities. Three programs were highlighted in this research study: the Freshman Interest group program at the University of Washington, the Coordinated Studies Program at Seattle Community College, and the learning community clusters at La Guardia Community College.
Student accounts from the Collaborative Learning Project—see quotes above—are not so different from what our own students might say. This is hardly surprising, since learning communities done well continue to be a conduit for high-expectation, engaged, meaningful learning. What has changed are the programs on these campuses.
Through the collective efforts of colleagues at these institutions and many others, we now know more about how to scale up and sustain learning community initiatives so many more students can experience the value of learning in community, especially those who are underrepresented in higher education.
LCs as an Intervention Strategy for Student Success
The expression “new era learning communities” refers to a new stage in learning community work—where curricular reform is cast more broadly as educational reform. The starting point for planning learning communities is no longer a conversation between faculty keen to teach together, but an institution’s commitment to its students—from their arrival to graduation.
Situating learning communities in the thick of an educational institution’s aims and concerns represents a coming-of-age for an emerging field.
The shifts include the following key moves:
- From learning community offerings based on faculty interest to learning communities situated where student need is greatest and at critical transition points (high school and pre-college to college, transfer from two- to-four year schools, entry into specialized studies)
- From learning community models to learning communities as an intervention strategy for student success where attention is paid to subsets of students whose completion rates lag behind their peers
- From one or two types of learning communities to multiple interventions with a common purpose informed by explicit learning community program mission and goals, articulated in relation to an institution's strategic plan
New era learning communities move forward the best of our collective efforts. The throughline—the constant—is the commitment to quality education for all students, and an explicit institutional acknowledgement that curriculum planning time for faculty and other teaching team members is foundational to learning communities done well.