Jordyn Tansom, University of Wisconsin River Falls
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“Founded on a philosophy of operations that encompasses respect, team work, creativity, and trust between participants” (Rutledge, 1996). Is the author referring to a fraternity, work group or sports team? Actually, this statement is referring to Learning Communities. So, what are they, how do they work and what do they add to the academic experience?

While there are a number of definitions of Learning Communities, the community I encountered is referred to as a peer community, defined as “a group of people that come together to meet specific and unique learning needs, and to share resources and skills,” (Tosey, 1999). Within in this structure each step you take and each technique that you learn is done within your group or community of your peers (Nimmo, 2002). I have encountered an example of a peer learning community at the University of Wisconsin River Falls. Located on the fourth floor of a residence building there is a Learning Community comprised of a group of college students that that have chosen to live in the same wing of the dorm to focus on their common academic pursuits – studying Elementary or Secondary Education. This particular community is called TEACH. The students are in the close quarters where they focus on course content, exchange ideas and reflect on those elements of learning that can enhance their effectiveness as student and future teacher.

There are many ways to make a Learning Community run effectively. But how can it be achieved? A Learning Community is most beneficial when the members share similar interests, intensions, and learning habits. Assembling participants possessing similar interests is important because it opens up windows of discussion (Tosey, 1999). The members of specific communities feed off the discoveries made by the other members of the community about the topic of interest (Tosey, 1999).

In addition to common interests, the community experience is even more conducive to growth when the members share the same intensions and commitment to succeed. This creates very real peer pressure that favorably impacts the motivation of each member as no individual member wants to let the others down (Nimmo, 2002). In a sense the binding agent is the desire to strengthen yourself to contribute to the group.

Another way to formulate an effective Learning Community is by gathering students with similar learning habits (Tosey, 1999). The different learning styles can include be visual, tangible, or many others. Putting students that learn the same way in a groups often enhances individual learning. Putting the students that learn the same together and then teaching in that specific way, you are opening up the opportunity for achievement (Rocconi, 2011). An example of where this could be used is would be assigning students into Learning Communities that focus on the different styles of teaching. While this requires greater insight and awareness by the teacher, delivery of the message in a manner that is best received, processed and applied is clearly in the best interest of the participants.

The success of Learning Communities is evidenced by better grades in school, a higher attendance rate, improved reading and math skills, and eventually the accomplishment of earning a diploma (Rutledge, 1996). At the core of these advancements is the increase in student motivation due to participation in a community. Membership creates positive pressure to achieve, born out of the fact that your failures will not only disappoint yourself, but your community as a whole (Nimmo, 2002).

Finally, while the peer community is not created to be a therapeutic community, studies have shown that these communities have encouraged communicational, social, personal growth in individuals (Tosey, 1999). I asked a member of the Learning Community TEACH, Mitchell Kohrs, what he feels is the most beneficial part of being in a Learning Community. His response was, “Accountability, you are able to rely on your fellow members for help and guidance as you progress through your learning experiences.”

Throughout my research I have gained valuable insight and knowledge on what a Learning Community is and how it is beneficial to learning. I can see how this concept can be leveraged in the classroom someday by thoughtfully clustering students with common needs and learning styles to create mini learning communities that add a sense of motivation and commitment to the learning objectives.

Nimmo, C. (2002). Q & a. American Journal Of Health-System Pharmacy, 59(2), 125-126
Rocconi, L. (2011). The Impact of Learning Communities on First Year Students’ Growth and Development in
College. Research In Higher Education, 52(2), 178-193
Rutledge, C. J. (1996). The learning community. Adult Learning, 7(6), 9.
Tosey, P. (1999). The peer learning community: A contextual design for learning? Management
Decision, 37(5), 403-410.
Interview with Mitchell Kohrs, student at the University of Wisconsin River Falls