Learning Communities
National Resource Center

These frequently asked questions have been culled from over fifteen years of experience working with campuses to initiate learning communities.

What are learning communities?

What about living/learning communities?

How widespread are LCs and what types of colleges and universities are offering them?

Why have learning communities?

What do we need to know and how do we get started?

Who leads learning communities?

How are they taught?

What role do libraries and information technology play in LCs?

How should we assess our learning communities?

What do they cost?

How can we fund them?

How do we market learning communities to students, faculty, advisors, and others?

How can we encourage diversity in our learning community program?

What approaches to faculty development work best?



 

What are learning communities?

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In higher education, curricular learning communities are classes that are linked or clustered during an academic term, often around an interdisciplinary theme, and enroll a common cohort of students. A variety of approaches are used to build these learning communities, with all intended to restructure the students’ time, credit, and learning experiences to build community among students, between students and their teachers, and among faculty members and disciplines.

The three general types of learning community structures are as follows:

  1. Student Cohorts/Integrative Seminar

    Learning communities can be structured as programs in which a small cohort of students enrolls in larger classes that faculty do not coordinate. In this instance, intellectual connections and community-building often take place in an additional integrative seminar.

  2. Linked Courses/Course Clusters
    Learning communities may involve two or more classes linked thematically or by content which a cohort of students takes together. In this instance, the faculty do plan the program collaboratively.


  3. Coordinated Study

    Learning communities may involve coursework that faculty members team teach. The course work is embedded in an integrated program of study.


These are broad categorizations along a spectrum of learning community activities. Dozens of adaptations of these types exist to fit the needs of specific colleges and universities.


Resources

Content in Adobe Acrobat Format Learning Communities Taking Root, by Jean MacGregor, Washington Center News.
Opens with a chronology of learning community projects in Washington State. Second part of the article describes the challenges of this type of reform movement. "No matter what scale they take, healthy learning community efforts must have a clear rationale in terms of their curricular purposes and student clientele, and in terms of the larger curricular landscape of the campus."
Content in Microsoft Powerpoint Learning Community Models, by Jean MacGregor, Barbara Leigh Smith, Roberta Matthews, Faith Gabelnick.
This powerpoint offers information about structuring learning communities for teachers and students. Full of examples!
An internet email list server. The Learning Community (learncom) listserv
The focus of this email list, originally based at Temple University, is to provide a forum where learning community practitioners can discuss issues and questions related to learning community work.


 
 

What about living/learning communities?

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Residential learning communities have been in place in higher education for decades and, most recently, have appeared under the banner of cluster colleges, residential colleges and living/learning communities. Within this configuration, students who are enrolled in learning communities are also assigned to the same residence halls and, in some instances, are mentored by upperclass peers who also reside in the same location.

Resources

A website URL. National Study of Living-Learning Programs
This website introduces an exciting new project that studies the impact of living-learning environments on undergraduate learning and development in a national context. This funded project is a collaborative effort among faculty, academic and student affairs staff, and graduate researchers at three different flagship and Research I universities.
An internet email list server. Residential Learning Community Listserv
(Don't type the brackets, just type your first and last name.) for more information.
A website URL. The Residential Learning Communities International Clearinghouse
Bowling Green State University is sponsoring an international clearinghouse devoted to collection and dissemination of information about residential learning communities.

Further reading

Golde, C. M., and D. A. Pribbenow. “Understanding Faculty Involvement in Residential Learning Communities.” Journal of College Student Development 41(1) (2000): 27-40.
 
 

How widespread are LCs and what types of colleges and universities are offering them?

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Learning communities are found at all types of colleges and universities. Most programs are developed for first year students, but as various entries in the Learning Communities Directory indicate, there are learning community programs established as alternative general education pathways, and in both minor and major studies.

A recent survey of First Year Academic Practices at colleges and universities in the United States indicates that learning communities are being offered at every type of institution, and some programs are quite substantial, reaching over 90% of the freshman class. For the full report on the Second National Survey of First-Year Academic Practices, go to the Policy Center on the First Year of College website.




Further reading

Fogarty, J., L. Dunlap, and others. Learning Communities in Community Colleges. National Learning Communities Project Monograph Series, Olympia WA: The Evergreen State College, Washington Center for Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Education, in cooperation with the American Association for Higher Education and the American Association of Community Colleges. 2003.
O'Connor, J., with others. Learning Communities in Research Universities. National Learning Communities Project Monograph Series. Olympia, WA: The Evergreen State College, Washington Center for Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Education, in cooperation with the American Association for Higher Education. 2003.
Spear, K. with others. Learning Communities in Liberal Arts Colleges. National Learning Communities Project Monograph Series, Olympia WA: The Evergreen State College, Washington Center for Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Education, in cooperation with the American Association for Higher Education. 2003.

Institutional examples

Content in Adobe Acrobat Format Freshman Interest Groups at the University of Washington: Building Community for Freshmen at a Large University, by Claire F. Sullivan and Donald H. Wulff , Washington Center News.
This fall (1990) marked the third year of Freshman Interest Groups (FIGs) at the University of Washington. Based on a model of academic learning communities, the UW FIG program has evolved into a highly successful experience for students, peer advisers, and faculty.
 
 

Why have learning communities?

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In a variety of institutional settings and in a number of forms, learning communities have been shown to increase student retention and academic achievement, increase student involvement and motivation, improve students’ time to degree completion, and enhance student intellectual development.

Students involved in learning communities become more intellectually mature and responsible for their own learning and develop the capacity to care about the learning of their peers.

Faculty members involved in learning communities that facilitate cross-faculty collaboration are expanding their repertoire of teaching approaches, continually revising their course content, and acquiring new scholarly interests. Learning community faculty members are also building mentoring relationships with each other and are more frequently engaging with beginning students and general education offerings.

Institutions use learning communities as sites for testing out new curricular approaches and strategies for strengthening teaching and learning.

These programs offer more coherent opportunities for the teaching of literacy skills, such as reading, writing, and speaking, and more coherent pathways for students to engage in the general education curriculum. They also offer a robust way to address interdisciplinary ideas and offer a more coordinated platform for study in the major. Partnerships between student and academic affairs divisions are strengthened as these organizations work to develop and maintain learning communities and these programs are a relatively low cost method for accomplishing all of the above.

Learning community programs also address a variety of societal issues such as the increasing fragmentation of information and student alienation toward participation and engagement. With an emphasis on interpersonal dialogue, collaboration, and experiential learning within the context of diversity, these programs address a decreasing sense of community and connection and allow students to relate their college-level learning to larger personal and global questions.


Resources

Content in Microsoft Word Frequently Cited Goals of Learning Communities, by Jean MacGregor and Barbara Leigh Smith.
Bulleted lists of LC goals for students, faculty, student affairs staff, curriculum, institution, community and parents.
Content in Microsoft Word Goals and Practices Associated with Learning Community Programs, by Jean MacGregor.
This one-pager offers a bulleted list: community, curricular connections, collaboration, linking theory with practice, reflective practice.
Content in Adobe Acrobat Format Learning communities: Reweaving the Culture of Disconnection, by Parker J. Palmer, Washington Center News.
Excerpts from a keynote address by Parker J. Palmer. " I believe that we educators hold in our hands the power to form, or deform, students’ souls, their sense of self and their relation to the world. "
Content in Adobe Acrobat Format Seven Principles For Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, by Arthur W. Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson, Washington Center News.
".. how can students and faculty members improve undergraduate education? Many campuses around the country are asking this question. To provide a focus for their work, we offer seven principles based on research on good teaching and learning in colleges and universities."
Content in Adobe Acrobat Format The Rationale for Learning Communities, by Patrick Hill.
Transcribed from a speech given by Patrick Hill, Academic Vice President at The Evergreen State College, on October 22, 1985 at the Inaugural Conference on Learning Communities of The Washington Center for Undergraduate Education.
Institutional examples

A summary of information from the National Learning Communities online directory. LC directory report: Why was this learning community initiative started at your institution?

 
 

What do we need to know and how do we get started?

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Critical elements for developing learning community initiatives include:

  • an impetus for change

  • administrative support

  • a leadership team that includes both academic and student affairs

  • a shared vision and comprehensive view

  • a strategic plan and yearly planning calendar

  • inclusive planning

  • student-focused goals

  • faculty involvement

  • an evaluation and assessment plan

  • information and resource networks

  • budget and space

  • incentives and rewards


Resources

A website URL. Design a Learning Community in an Hour
The idea in this exercise is for your team to engage in some boundary-crossing curricular brainstorming. Often planning conversations start with what students will learn, and these conversations are usually based in existing courses. The purpose of this exercise is to practice inventing a new curriculum around topics or ideas that bridge or meld disciplines
Content in Microsoft Word Designing Integrated Learning for Students: A Heuristic for Teaching, Assessment and Curriculum Design, by Gillies Malnarich and Emily Decker Lardner, Co-Directors, Washington Center.
"What we have learned from working with faculty at a number of institutions is that while learning communities (LCs) create a space for learning, the substance of what happens within that space is what matters most for students, regardless of how that space is configured. What students learn is shaped by the assignments or assessments they are invited to do. The focus of this heuristic, which can be adapted for use in many kinds of institutional settings, is on designing compelling, substantive and integrative experiences of learning for students. "
Content in Microsoft Word Planning Questions for Developing Learning Community Initiatives, by Jean MacGregor and Roberta Matthews.
Ten planning questions to consider things like target student audience, choice of LC models, themes, communication, campus initiatives, implementation, resources, marketing, institutionalization and feedback.

Further reading

Bystrom, V. A. “Getting It Together: Learning Communities.” In New Paradigms for College Teaching, W. E. Campbell and K. Smith, (eds.). Minneapolis, MN: Interaction Book Company, 1997
 
 

Who leads learning communities?

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The most robust and sustainable learning community initiatives are led by collaborative leadership teams. Learning community initiatives that rely on one heroic individual are often vulnerable, especially when the workload and leadership are not widely shared. Successful learning community implementation requires extensive cross-unit coordination among:

  • faculty members

  • vice president for student affairs and staff

  • academic advisors

  • admissions and orientation staff members

  • the registrar's office

  • individuals who develop the institution's course
    catalog and those who schedule classroom space

  • senior academic leaders

  • individuals involved with assessment.


Learning communities should also involve:

  • residence life staff

  • librarians

  • computer technology specialists

  • students

  • representatives of the institution's teaching and learning or faculty development center.


Resources

Content in Adobe Acrobat Format Change Agent, by Jacque Mott, Washington Center News.
" As coordinator of the learning communities program at William Rainey Harper College, I offer the following thoughts and ideas to those of you wanting to develop a similar program on your campus. Some suggestions may seem remedial while others may be viewed as more valuable, depending upon your own strengths and weaknesses at being change agents on your campus. Effective LC leadership, after all, is generally the result of a good match between the institution and the personal skills of the leader who is to effect change in that environment. "
Content in Adobe Acrobat Format Getting to the Heart of the Matter: Steps to Forming Coalitions, by Emily Decker Lardner, Washington Center News.
"What follows is an outline of a workshop that focuses on powerful experiences of learning as a way of forming coalitions. ...the strategy of this workshop, is to focus on the values that give rise to learning communities, values which also give rise to other educational practices on campuses. Once we identify a common denominator based on creating possibilities for more opportunities for powerful learning, we open up the possibilities for meaningful coalition building. "

Further reading

Potter, D. L. “Where Powerful Partnerships Begin.” About Campus 4(2) (May-June 1999).
Schroeder, C. C., F. Minor, & T. Tarkow. “Learning Communities: Partnerships Between Academic and Student Affairs. In Learning Communities: New Structures, New Partnerships for Learning, J. H. Levine, (ed.). Columbia: National Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, 1999.

Institutional examples

Singleton, R A., Jr., R. H. Garvey, and G. A. Phillips. “Connecting the Academic and Social Lives of Students: The Holy Cross First-Year Program.” Change, 30(3), (1998): 18-25.
 
 

How are they taught?

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Ideally, learning communities foster learning to learn as a social act. Students involved in learning communities will bring the confidence and social energy fostered by membership in the community into the classroom. Faculty members will find incorporating that sense of membership into their teaching much more productive than working to keep “hyper-bonded” students apart through individual assignments, activities, and grading practices. Learning communities should also involve reading and critical discourse about the issues of a diverse society, leading to actual participation in the larger community.

Strategies for building active learning in the classroom include:

  • Service learning is the growing use in college courses of a combination of community service and opportunities for reflection on the learning that occurs through that service. Service opportunities are carefully selected to align with the learning goals of the course or learning community experience.

  • Collaborative and cooperative learning provide teams of students the opportunity to learn actively, through shared discovery of knowledge. Collaborative learning allows students to create new knowledge together, while students involved in cooperative learning search together for pre-set "right" answers to problems or questions.

  • Peer teaching is the increasingly popular practice of employing undergraduate students to serve as co-instructors with faculty members. Peer teachers are assigned to serve as mentors, tutors, and/or intellectual and social supports for students in learning community courses, often in first-year seminars.

  • Discussion groups and seminars are generally used in learning communities throughout a term as opportunities for faculty and students to integrate concepts introduced in their learning community courses. Groups may, or may not be offered for academic credit, while seminars generally carry at least one hour of credit. These discussion groups and seminars offer a particularly useful block of time in which to share experiences at interdisciplinary events on and off-campus. They are generally followed by an opportunity to reflect and write on the learning that occurred and its relationship to the concepts introduced in the learning communities.

  • Experiential learning is any of a variety of approaches for allowing students opportunities outside the classroom to enact the concepts learned through in-class discussions, reading, writing, or other activities. Experiential learning includes activities such as service learning, study abroad, community service, and internships and are intentionally linked to the academic goals of a course or cluster of courses.

  • Labs and field trips offer additional methods for allowing students to enact the intellectual concepts learned in class. Labs can be used as the arena for conversations about implications of concepts learned in linked course/s. Field trips are less complex, costly, and difficult to integrate than other experiential learning experiences, while still providing some up close exposure to intellectual concepts in action.

  • Problem-based learning allows students to work through real or simulated issues related to the learning goals of a course to strengthen their ability to collect and analyze data about those issues, propose alternatives, and arrive at solutions. Problem-based learning underscores the trans-disciplinary nature of most problems and is often employed in conjunction with group learning.

  • Demonstrations are delivered by students, peer or primary instructors, or guest presenters to bring to life concepts learned in the course or learning community. Ideally, as with problem-based learning, demonstrations highlight the trans-disciplinary action or thinking inherent in most situations.

  • Writing and speaking across-the-curriculum are fundamental components of most learning communities because these interdisciplinary experiences allow instructors to demonstrate the critical nature of communication skills across courses and situations outside the academic experience. Learning communities, particularly for first-year students, are writing and/or speaking intensive in keeping with the primary goals of most undergraduate curricula.

  • Ongoing reflection is an essential component of most successful learning communities because these experiences allow the time, space, instruction, and encouragement students often need to examine what they have learned, how they have learned it, and how that learning might be applied in other situations. Reflective learners who are consciously able to draw on past experiences are more efficient, confident, and effective learners.

  • Metacognitive activities combine the thoughtful self-evaluation of reflective learning with active learning approaches, such as service learning, study abroad, or internships. Metacognition allows students to examine what they have learned and to draw inferences about that learning's applications elsewhere. Metacognitive activities are experiential opportunities to bring students to this adaptive mode of thinking.

  • Self-evaluation places the onus for determining levels of success or failure in a particular activity on the student engagement in that activity. Self-evaluation activities can be as simple as a one-minute paper that asks, "what worked, what didn't, what next" to a multi-term student-created electronic portfolio that houses academic work selected by the student for its demonstration of learning over time.


Resources

Content in Adobe Acrobat Format Seminars: A Collection of Materials on Seminar Approaches and Evaluation Strategies, by K. Ann McCartney, Margaret Scarborough and Jim Harnish.
This packet is full of advice on organizing successful seminars. In addition to practical "how-to" articles, it includes evaluation/assessment worksheets and a brief bibliography.
A website URL. Assessment in and of Collaborative Learning: A Handbook of Strategies, by the Washington Center's Evaluation Committee.
This Handbook provides a set of assessment tools for college teachers and staff involved in collaborative learning and in learning communities. We describe approaches we have found effective in our own classrooms-approaches which reflect our concept of assessment as an integral part of the teaching and learning process.
A website URL. Campus Compact Website
Campus Contact is a national coalition of more than 860 college and university presidents committed to the civic purposes of higher education. To support this civic mission, Campus Compact promotes community service that develops students' citizenship skills and values, encourages partnerships between campuses and communities, and assists faculty who seek to integrate public and community engagement into their teaching and research.

A website URL. The Center for Problem-Based Learning
The Center for Problem-Based Learning is one arm of the Samford PBL Initiative. This site gives clear explanations about what problem-based learning is and how and why it can be effective.
A website URL. the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning
CAEL (The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning) is a non-profit organization committed to providing better access to education for adults, through partnerships with business, government, labor and higher education. By working toward accessible lifelong learning for all adults we help generate important benefits for the individual, organizations and communities as a whole, such as improved productivity, increased college enrollments, better job security and employability.
Content in Adobe Acrobat Format What is Collaborative Learning?, by Barbara Smith and Jean MacGregor.
This article examines multiple approaches to collaborative learning and some of the challenges involved in designing student-centered curriculum.

Further reading

Barkley, C. Major, and K. P. Cross. 2004 Collaborative Learning Techniques. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Bean, J. C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996.
Finkel, D. L. Teaching With Your Mouth Shut. Portsmouth: Heinemann Boynton Cook Publishers, 2000.
MacGregor, J., J. L. Cooper, K. A. Smith, and P. Robinson. Strategies for Energizing Large Classes: From Small Groups to Learning Communities, New Directions in Teaching and Learning, 81. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.
Newell, W. H., "Powerful Pedagogies," Reinventing Ourselves, Interdisciplinary Education, Collaborative Learning, and Experimentation in Higher Education. B. L. Smith and J. McCann, (eds.). Bolton, MA: Anker, 2001, pp 196-211.
Tagg, J. The Learning Paradigm College. Bolton, MA: Anker Press, 2003.


 
 

What role do libraries and information technology play in LCs?

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Librarians and information technologists are increasingly becoming critical partners in learning community development and delivery. This increase is both a function of the exponential growth in the amount of information available and the ubiquity of and advancements in networked technologies. Librarians join learning community teams to provide expertise in information retrieval, research methods, and information literacy. Information technologists can offer valuable expertise in on-line teaching, learning, and assessment practices.

Reflective learning community practitioners integrate both library-related issues and instructional technologies into their courses after conducting a careful course design process that establishes learning goals for their use, activities that facilitate achievement of those goals, and mechanisms for assessing and recalibrating activities, during and after the term. Learning community practitioners committed to best practices in technology and library use are careful to avoid using these approaches in superficial, transitory, or non-reflective ways.

Common uses of instructional technologies in learning communities include:

  • Student use of the web for research to be used in group projects often with the librarian's assistance

  • Creation of a website by faculty to post assignments, syllabi, and course resources

  • Use of e-mail, threaded discussions, or course management systems (e.g., WebCt, Blackboard, etc.), web-video, or combinations of these to augment or replace classroom seminars, readings, groupwork, and other assignments

  • Use of software and programming languages in the classroom (e.g. Evergreen State College’s Rob Cole's use of Stella to teach Calculus, Washington State University web-based multimedia project development)

  • Student creation of personal electronic academic portfolios

  • Other online assessments, e.g. formative surveys, course evaluations

  • Participation in on-going community, non-profit or government data collection or data validation efforts (generated from instructor-student-community interactions)


Instructional technologies are used in learning communities to strengthen and deepen learning in community.


Resources

Content in Adobe Acrobat Format Learning communities and technology: The diagnostic dialectic, by Steve Quinn, Washington Center News.
" In the final plenary session of the May Learning Communities Conference in Seattle, several important questions were raised. There was the shared observation that many current “hot topics”-problem-based and outcomes-based learning and assessment, for example-were notable in their absence. Also, the make-up of the participant group was less diverse and inclusive than it might have been. Finally, there was the relative absence of "technology-talk” at this conference as compared to other recent conferences we had attended. Some-one asked the question, Why was technology not discussed more? In the following paragraphs I will offer my own response."
A website URL. Link Up! Technology Resources & Links
Glendale Community College offers a web page with links for faculty interested in supporting their learning communities with technology.
A website URL. The Technology Source
The purpose of The Technology Source, a peer-reviewed bimonthly periodical published by the Michigan Virtual University, is to provide thoughtful, illuminating articles that will assist educators as they face the challenge of integrating information technology tools into teaching and into managing educational organizations.

Further reading

Pedersen, S. Learning Communities and the Academic Library. National Learning Communities Project Monograph Series. Olympia WA: The Evergreen State College, Washington Center for Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Education, in cooperation with the American Association for Higher Education and the Association of College and Research Libraries. 2003.
 
 

How should we assess our learning communities?

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Over the years, learning communities have been the subject of intensive assessment using a variety of formative and summative approaches and both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. At the student level, assessments examine:
  • learning

  • satisfaction

  • engagement

  • retention

  • time to degree

  • involvement in campus and community activities


Pedagogical approaches within learning communities have been assessed, as have faculty satisfaction, learning, and other professional development factors.

Assessment is the “gathering of information concerning the functioning of students, staff, and institutions of higher education. The information may or may not be in numerical form, but the basic motive for gathering it is to improve the functioning of the institution and its people. I used functioning to refer to the broad social purposes of a college or university: to facilitate student learning and development, to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and to contribute to the community and the society" (Alexander Astin, Assessment for Excellence, Oryx Press, 1993, p.2).

Given this definition, formative assessment is the gathering of data that occurs during an academic term with the express purpose of improving practice at the time of program or instructional delivery or student engagement in a learning activity. Summative assessment is data gathering post-program or instructional delivery or student learning episode with the purpose of improving future practice. (Henscheid, 2003)




Resources

Content in Adobe Acrobat Format Assessment and learning communities: Taking stock after six years, Washington Center News.
This issue of the Washington Center News contains a number of articles on assessing learning communities.
A website URL. Assessment in and of Collaborative Learning: A Handbook of Strategies, by the Washington Center's Evaluation Committee.
This Handbook provides a set of assessment tools for college teachers and staff involved in collaborative learning and in learning communities. We describe approaches we have found effective in our own classrooms-approaches which reflect our concept of assessment as an integral part of the teaching and learning process.
A website URL. Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)
Southern Illinois University has put together a comprehensive website on classroom assessment techniques (CATs).
A website URL. Doing Assessment As If Learning Matters Most, by Tom Angelo.
From the May 1999 AAHE Bulletin. Tom Angelo is associate professor and founding director of the Assessment Center at DePaul University’s School for New Learning. He is a past director of the AAHE Assessment Forum.

Further reading

MacGregor, J., ed. Doing Learning Community Assessment: Five Campus Stories. National Learning Communities Project Monograph Series. Olympia, WA: The Evergreen State College, Washington Center for Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Education, in cooperation with the American Association for Higher Education 2003.

Institutional examples

A summary of information from the National Learning Communities online directory. LC directory report: Overall, how are you assessing the effectiveness of your learning community initiative?
 
A summary of information from the National Learning Communities online directory. LC directory report: Which strategies do you use to improve your learning communities?
 
 
 

What do they cost?

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Costs involved in learning community development and delivery vary widely and depend on the configuration of each program. Some or all of the following direct and indirect are often involved:
  • Start-up costs including planning meetings and external consultation to stimulate conversation and provide advice

  • Publicity to faculty, advisors and prospective learning community student participants

  • Reduced or altered enrollment configurations

  • Assessment and evaluation resources

  • Undergraduate peer facilitators

  • Special field trips, cultural activities or guest speakers

  • Faculty/staff development, events and activities

  • Special classroom construction or renovation

  • Renovation of residence halls for residential learning communities, including the construction of residential classrooms or planning rooms

  • Additional training for advisors

  • Software costs for cohort registration

  • Annual faculty/staff retreats or institutes, for planning and reflection

Many learning communities are launched with funds from outside granting agencies, although an impressive number have been developed entirely with reallocated internal resources. Most are sustained and grow with internal resources after grants end.



Further reading

Ferren, A and R. Slavings, Investing in Quality: Tools for Improving Curricular Efficiency. Association of American Colleges and Universities: Washington D.C. 2000.
Ferren, A. "Achieving Effectiveness and Efficiency," in Handbook of the Undergraduate Curriculum. Gaff, J., J. Ratcliff and associates Ed. Jossey Bass: San Francisco, 1997, pp. 533-557.
Reardon, M. and J. Ramaley, "Building Community While Containing Costs," in Handbook of the Undergraduate Curriculum. Gaff J., J. Ratcliff, and Associates, eds. Jossey Bass: San Francisco, 1997, pp. 513-532.
 
 
   
How can we fund them?

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Learning communities are usually funded just like any other academic course-out of the college budget. The principle cost, of course, is for the salaries of the instructor(s). It makes a difference who the teachers are since salaries of instructors vary widely.

The actual cost of learning communities depends upon the LC model used. If a learning community has enrollment limits similar to stand alone classes, there is little additional cost incurred. In most institutions the average undergraduate class size is about 25 students to 1 faculty. Therefore a team taught learning community that is the equivalent of two courses would need to have 50 students to meet this average. Actual teaching loads vary considerably between institutions and within institutions. Historical resource deployment patterns, unfortunately, often use large first year classes as a means of subsiding faculty research, low teaching loads, and small upper division courses. Since the first year is when student attrition rates are highest, this is not a wise way to deploy resources if student success matters.

The best approach is to build learning communities into the college budget. Generally speaking, the larger the program, the more it has to correspond to the existing political economy of the institution or negotiate a new allocation pattern. Grants have been used to start some programs, but this is an unsustainable pattern of long-term funding and can create unrealistic expectations. It is better to regard grants as quality enhancement funds that can help with faculty development or other needs. Looking for local grants to fund student projects, service learning, community outreach, etc. is a good option. Some institutions have also found community sponsors for LC scholarships and for student research. In one institution, we know about the president establish a LC scholarship fund given in the name of one of the LC faculty each year as well as a paid sabbatical focusing on LCs.

Title III and V grants from the Department of Education have also funded many LCs. These are complex, omnibus projects to improve student success funded by the Federal Department of Education.

In addition to grants, others ways that institutions have funded learning communities and justified funding levels include the following:

  • Using tuition waivers or work study funds to support LC program scholarships or for peer mentors for LCs, i.e. the Goodrich Scholarship Program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.


  • Charging additional fees for living-learning communities through the residence life programs, i.e. at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Colorado.


  • Establishing partnerships within the institution that bring resources from other parts of the college budget to the LC effort. Some LCs have been focused on athletes, for example. Others involve collaborations with the Library, Information Technology, Student Affairs, Institutional Research or the Center for Teaching and Learning.


  • Demonstrating substantial return on investment, efficiency and effectiveness in terms of enhanced retention and degree completion. Tuition saved is real money and the cost of very small upper division courses is high. The institution will benefit if it can retain more students in some of these high cost fields.


  • Demonstrating efficiency and educational effectiveness by developing a more pointed and shorter general education program than the distribution system typically provides. Portland State University made this argument.


  • Increasing institutional profits and improving campus climate through living-learning programs that increase occupancy rates and decrease police incident rates.


  • Increasing faculty vitality and improving teaching practices through team teaching in LCs.


 
 

How do we market learning communities to students, faculty, advisors, and others?

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Do you know of any outstanding examples of LC marketing? (maybe your own!) Send them to us and we'll add them to this marketing faq!

Resources

Content in Adobe Acrobat Format Marketing LCs- part 1: The Marketing Process, by Jacque Mott, Jean Henscheid, Barbara Leigh Smith.

Content in Adobe Acrobat Format Marketing LCs- part 2: Developing a Marketing Plan, by Jacque Mott, Jean Henscheid, Barbara Leigh Smith.

Content in Adobe Acrobat Format Marketing LCs-part 3: Marketing to Critical Audiences, by Jacque Mott, Jean Henscheid, Barbara Leigh Smith.

Content in Adobe Acrobat Format Marketing LCs-part 4: Marketing Materials that Work, by Jacque Mott, Jean Henscheid, Barbara Leigh Smith.

Content in Adobe Acrobat Format Marketing LCs-part 5: Designing an LC Website, by Sy Knackstedt, Jean Henscheid, Barbara Leigh Smith.

Content in Microsoft Powerpoint Marketing Learning Communities: Part 1, The Marketing Process, by Jacque Mott, with Jean Henscheid & Barbara Leigh Smith.
Part one of this four-part presentation gives an overview of the marketing process. Marketing concepts are examined in the learning community context.
Content in Microsoft Powerpoint Marketing Learning Communities: Part 2, Developing a Marketing Plan, by Jacque Mott, with Jean Henscheid & Barbara Leigh Smith.
Part two of this four-part presentation on successful marketing covers the basics of developing the all-important marketing plan.
Content in Microsoft Powerpoint Marketing Learning Communities: Part 3, Marketing to Critical Audiences, by Jacque Mott, with Jean Henscheid & Barbara Leigh Smith.
Part three of this four-part presentation on Learning Community Marketing examines strategies for rallying different target audiences: students, faculty, counselors/advisors, and administrators.
Content in Microsoft Powerpoint Marketing Learning Communities: Part 4, Promotional Materials that Work, by Jacque Mott, with Jean Henscheid & Barbara Leigh Smith.
Part four of the LC marketing powerpoint: "Marketing materials that work" gives examples of Learning Community brochures with useful comments and design tips. Includes ideas for marketing to distinct age-groups and to diverse student populations.
Content in Microsoft Powerpoint Marketing Learning Communities: Part 5, Designing an LC Website, by Sy Knackstedt, with Jean Henscheid & Barbara Leigh Smith.
Part five shows how to go about putting together a solid LC website, from concept and content through personality, look and feel. Includes examples.
 
 

How can we encourage diversity in our learning community program?

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Many learning community programs work intentionally to be reflective of the institution’s student population at large. Questions to consider in this regard should include: Who is currently enrolling in your learning community? Who do you wish to enroll? How can teaching strategies used in the learning community foster a dialogue of inclusivity and community in the context of diverse learners? Can the curriculum itself reflect diversity or diverse perspectives?

Resources

Content in Microsoft Word Approaching Diversity through Learning Communities, by Emily Decker Lardner, Co-Director, Washington Center.
"Diversity work on campuses takes many forms, and at their best, learning communities build on this existing work. Learning communities can be designed to invite students from under-represented groups into the academy, and to help them stay and be academically successful."
A website URL. DiversityWeb
DiversityWeb is a project of AAC&U's Office of Diversity, Equity, and Global Initiatives (ODEGI). Central to the office's mission is the belief that diversity and global knowledge are essential elements of any effort to foster civic engagement among today's college students. To support those goals, the office helps colleges and universities establish diversity as a comprehensive institutional commitment and educational priority.
 
 

What approaches to faculty development work best?

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Providing professional development opportunities for learning community instructional staff is a challenging, and critical, element in building a high quality and sustainable program. Teaching in learning communities often requires employing new approaches to collaboration with colleagues, course design, classroom management, and assessment, all of which must be addressed in regular workshops, brown bags, retreats, small group and one-to-one conversations, and written dialogues. You are invited to listen now to what some experienced learning community fellows had to say in Perspectives on Faculty Development.

Resources

A website URL. Faculty Development Associates website
This site features useful Online Resources (links to 80 valuable higher education sites) and Teaching Tips of the Week.
A website URL. Faculty Learning Community website
Website for FACULTY learning communities (FLCs) at Miami University where there is a list of members of the consortium of FLCs.
Content in Adobe Acrobat Format The Washington Center Casebook, by the Washington Center Case Writing Group, the National Learning Communities Project.
The Washington Center Casebook on Collaborative Teaching and Learning is an invitation. We hope that its cases, sifted from the experience of collaborative learning faculty throughout Washington state, will arouse curiosity about collaborative education, stimulate new teaching teams and programs, encourage conversations among administrators, and put many groups to work designing solutions to intriguing instructional, interpersonal, and administrative challenges. (from intro)