Learning Communities

A learning community is a group designed to focus on and support the learning of participants in the group. Generally, learning communities are formatted so that peers work in groups on a common intellectual experience that involves active and collaborative learning. In the younger grades, a team of students in a classroom may work as a learning community on a particular assignment or class project. In middle and high school, students may participate in learning communities that move beyond the classroom walls, for example working in learning teams on a school-wide, cross-grade, or “all 8th grade” project. In higher education, learning communities take many forms, ranging from courses with overlapping assignments to integrated comprehensive programs with a residential component. Regardless of grade level, a learning community can provide students with a supportive learning environment, diverse perspectives from their peers, and the opportunity to participate in a community process incorporating both academic and affective learning.

A professional learning community (PLC) is established when a group of educators work interdependently a as a collaborative team to achieve common goals for which members are mutually accountable (DuFour, 2010). Regardless of whether they are discipline-based, school-based, district-based, or regional, PLCs work to enhance student achievement. Recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research are used to achieve better results for students. PLCs operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous, job-embedded learning for educators (DuFour, 2010).

Evidence Base for Learning Communities:

Articles and Websites

Beach, A.L. and Cox, M.D. (2009) “The Impact of Faculty Learning Communities on Teaching and Learning.” Learning Communities Journal 1(1) 3-10.

Cox, M.D. (2004) “Introduction to Faculty Learning Communities,” in Cox, M.D. and Richlin, L. (Eds) Building Faculty Learning Communities, New Directions for Teaching and Learning: No. 97 Jossey-Bass, San Fransisco, CA., 5-23.

Cox, M.D. (2008) Faculty Learning Community Program Director’s and Facilitator’s Handbook, Miami University, Oxford, OH.

DuRose, Lisa et.al. (2011). “The Classroom as a Center for Student Academic and Personal Development.” Learning Abstracts 14.4, League for Innovation in the Community College Posted 4/26/11: http://www.league.org/blog/post.cfm (see April 2011 archive)

Gess, Ashley J. (2011). “The Learning Community: a Framework for Integrative STEM Education in the American Community College.” Learning Abstracts 14.6, League for Innovation in the Community College. Posted 6/22/11: http://www.league.org/blog/post.cfm  (see April 2011 archive)

Price, Derek V. Learning Communities and Student Success in Postseconday Education: a Background Paper. New York: MDRC, 2005. This paper reviews the history and theory of learning communities, describes various types of learning communities, summarizes published research & proposes a design for multi-college research on the subject.

Miami University of Ohio (2009), Website for developing faculty learning communities: http://www.units.muohio.edu/flc/

Richlin, L. and Cox, M.D. (2004) “Developing Scholarly Teaching and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Through Faculty Learning Communities,” in Cox, M.D. and Richlin, L. (Eds). Building Faculty Learning Communities, New Directions for Teaching and Learning: No. 97, Jossey-Bass, San Fransisco, CA 127-135.


Brownell, Jayne E. and L.E. Swaner (2010): Five High-Impact Practices: Research on Learning Outcomes, Completion, and Quality. Washington DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. This monograph identifies five high-impact educational practices in relation to 21st century learning outcomes, and summarizes current research on the practices.

DuFour, Richard et al. (2010) Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work, 2nd edition. Bloomington, Indiana: Solution Tree Press.

Dana, Nancy F. and D. Yendol-Hoppey. (2008) The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Professional Development: Coaching Inquiry-Oriented Learning Communities. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Hord, Shirley M. et. al. (2010) Guiding Professional Learning Communities: Inspiration, Challenge, Surprise, and Meaning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Leskes, Andrea and Ross Miller (2006). Purposeful Pathways: Helping Students Achieve Key Learning Outcomes. Washington DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. This publication describes how colleges and high schools can work together to design powerful and sequential learning—‘purposeful pathways’—for integrative learning, inquiry learning, global learning, and civic learning outcomes.