Learning Communities Annotated Bibliographies

Benjamin, Mimi  (Eds.). (2015). Learning communities from start to finish: New directions for student services, Number 149. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

This edited collection provides theoretical foundations for learning communities and recent research on institutional structures that foster success in implementing, maintaining, and assessing learning communities. Chapters include:

  • “A history of learning communities within American higher education” by John e. Fink and Karen Kurotsuchi Inkelas
  • “Theoretical foundations of learning communities” by Jody E. Jessup-Anger
  • “With educational benefits for all: Campus inclusion through learning communities designed for underserved student populations” by John E. Fink and Mary L. Hummel
  • “Aligning needs, expectations, and learning outcomes to sustain self-efficacy through transfer learning community programs” by Jennifer R. Leptien
  • “Utilizing online learning communities in student affairs” by Daniel W. Calhoun and Lucy Santos Green
  • “Utilizing peer mentor roles in learning communities” by Laura Jo Rieske and Mimi Benjamin
  • “Assessing the ‘learning’ in learning communities” by Ann M. Gansemer-Topf and Kari Tietjen
  • “Learning community literature: Annotated bibliography” by Sarah Conte

Gabelnick, Faith MacGregor, Jean Matthews, Roberta S Smith, Barbara L  (Eds.). (1990). Learning Communities: Creating Connections Among Students, Faculty, and Disciplines. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, #41. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

In this early comprehensive look at learning communities, the authors draw from the foundational work of Dewey, Meiklejohn, and Tussman and present five basic models of learning communities: linked courses, learning clusters, freshman interest groups, federated learning communities, and coordinated studies. Learning communities are defined as “any one of a variety of curricular structures that link together several existing courses, or restructure the curricular material entirely, so that students have opportunities for deeper understanding and integration of the material they are learning, and more interaction with one another and their teachers as fellow participants in the learning process.” They assert that students should experience a learning community at least once and early in their college career, and that membership in at least one such supportive community may be enough to ensure a student’s persistence. They offer a practical checklist for issues of implementation and sustainability, and address strategies and difficulties related to teaching in learning communities through collaborative design and planning. Two chapters of the book address student and faculty experiences and responses to learning communities, and the final chapter looks ahead to the future of learning communities and curricular reform. There is also a section of resources provided.

Kuh, George D (1996). Guiding Principles for Creating Learning Environments for Undergraduates. Journal of College Student Development, 37(2), 135-148.

The author presents six principles “to guide institutional efforts to enhance student learning and personal development by more purposefully integrating curricular goals and outcomes with students’ experiences outside the classroom.” Based on existing research, the author shares ten conditions that foster student learning and personal development that when implemented together represent an institution with a seamless learning environment, that is, an environment that takes once separate parts of the academic experience (e.g., in-class and out-of-class, academic and non-academic, curricular and co-curricular, on- and off-campus experiences) and blends them into a whole and continuous experience. The six principles reflect the broad scope of activities that must be implemented to move toward an ethos of learning: generate enthusiasm for institutional renewal; create a common vision for learning; develop a common language; foster collaboration and cross-functional dialogue; examine the influence of student cultures on student learning; and focus on systemic change. Some institutions may require additional interventions not described in the six principles. The principles are also not presented as a “hierarchy of activities” – an institution may begin with any one of the activities to move toward an ethos of learning, though all must be addressed.

Schroeder, Charles C Mable, Phyllis  (Eds.). (1994). Realizing the Educational Potential of Residence Halls. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

The integration of the residence hall environment into the college experience is the focus of this book by Charles Schroeder, Phyllis Mable and other well-respected student development scholars. The authors emphasize the integration of “students’ formal academic experiences with their informal out-of-class experiences through collaborative efforts between educators in academic affairs and student affairs.” The book is organized into three sections that focus on different aspects of the residence hall as a learning environment. Part 1 explores the role of residence halls in educating students, which includes a historical overview, review of relevant research, six elements of the successful implementation of residential programs, methods for linking residence halls to curricular practices, and the need for intentional design. Part 2 looks at how to promote learning in the residence halls through the creation of learner-centered environments, the integration of curricular goals, the maximization of peer influences, and the promotion of diversity and civic leadership. Part 3, entitled Strengthening the Educational Impacts of Residence Life, looks at assessment of the residential experience, extracts five themes from the book, and makes fifteen recommendations for implementing a residence hall curriculum.

Shapiro, Nancy S Levine, Jodi H  (1999). Creating Learning Communities: A Practical Guide to Winning Support, Organizing for Change, and Implementing Programs. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Shapiro and Levine present a comprehensive handbook for the implementation of learning communities on college campuses. In the first two chapters they define and describe the characteristics of learning communities, highlight historical influences and contemporary settings, and describe current models and approaches to learning communities. The next three chapters articulate the types of transformative changes that need to occur for learning communities to take root and flourish in higher education environments, which includes practical advice on human and fiscal resources, curricular implications, and the importance of changing faculty roles and reward structures. Chapters six and seven deal in the practical aspects of administrative partnerships and logistics – planning, registration, marketing, and community building. Following that are two chapters devoted to evaluation and assessment, with the final chapter offering helpful lessons and advice.

Zhao, Chun-Mei Kuh, George D (2004). Adding Value: Learning Communities and Student Engagement. Research in Higher Education, 45(2), 115-138.

This study was conducted in order to determine whether student success can be linked to participation in a learning community, success being defined as student engagement in educationally purposeful activities, self-reported gains in a variety of outcomes, and overall satisfaction with the college experience. For the purposes of the study, a learning community was defined as a formal program where groups of students take two or more classes together, that may or may not have a residential component. The study used the National Survey for Student Engagement (NSSE), an annual survey of first-year and senior students, that measures the degree to which students participate in educational practices linked to the desired outcomes of college. The survey sample was 80,479 randomly selected first-year and senior students from 365 4-year colleges and universities who completed the survey in the spring of 2002. The results support the assertion that participating in learning communities is “uniformly and positively linked with student academic performance, engagement in educationally fruitful activities, gains associated with college attendance, and overall satisfaction with the college experience.” The article goes on to describe these effects in detail.

Limitations of the study include the wording of the question (it is impossible to determine if students had already participated in a learning community or if they were planning to do so); inability to distinguish between the different types of learning communities in which students had participated; the reliability of some of the scales employed in the study; and the measures are based on self-reported data. The study does, however, provide evidence that learning communities do warrant classification as a high-impact educational practice, and based on this the authors recommend two actions: 1) every campus should evaluate how many and what kinds of learning communities exist on campus and the numbers of different groups of students who are participating in them; 2) efforts should be focused on creating additional learning communities and attracting underrepresented students to participate them, such as male students, transfer students, and part-time students as these are the groups least likely to participate in learning communities before graduation.