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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

In a variety of forms, learning communities operate at hundreds of two- and four-year colleges and universities through the U.S. and in other countries. Learning communities have been developed to enrich all areas of the curriculum, from pre-college or developmental work to honors programs, entry points to majors and interdisciplinary capstones. For the past two decades, educators have agreed that learning communities need to include, at a minimum:

  • Strategically-defined cohorts of students taking two or more courses together, or sharing a residence hall experience and taking at least one course together
  • Robust collaborative partnerships between student and academic affairs
  • Explicitly designed opportunities to practice integrative and/or interdisciplinary learning

Learning communities as a high impact practice

Nearly ten years ago, George Kuh described learning communities as one of a set of “high impact practices” in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) 2007 Annual Report. Kuh (2007) argued that across high impact practices, students are asked to spend significant time on educationally purposeful tasks; they experience meaningful interactions with faculty and with peers; they receive frequent feedback on their learning; they interact with diverse people and experience different approaches to learning; and they have opportunities to engage in higher order thinking. High impact practices, in short, including LCs, require the use of engaging pedagogies.

In addition, students in the 2007 study reported that the most engaging features of learning communities included:

  • Opportunities to integrate learning across LC classes
  • Required out-of-class activities as part of the LC
  • Having an assigned undergraduate peer advisor

In Living-Learning Programs: One High-Impact Practice We Now Know a Lot About, Aaron Brower and Karen Kurotsuchi Inkelas make a similar argument for the features in LLCs that matter most to students.