Learning Communities

What constitutes the best learning communities? How does one go about building and supporting them in teaching? 

Connections and collaborations are at the heart of teaching and learning. Miami Online emphasizes creating learner/student and learning/knowledge-centered communities and experiences. How People Learn puts forward the idea that the most effective learning communities interweave four synergistic components or foci (Bransford et al., 2000). The Vanderbilt Center for Teaching as:

  1. Learner-centered:
    Learner-centered environments pay careful attention to the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs that learners bring to the educational setting. New knowledge builds on existing knowledge—students are not blank slates. Therefore, teachers need to uncover the students’ incomplete understandings, false beliefs, and naïve renditions of concepts when they begin a course. If ignored, students may develop understandings very different from what the teacher intends them to gain.
  2. Knowledge-centered:
    Knowledge-centered environments take seriously the need to help students learn the well-organized bodies of knowledge that support understanding and adaptive expertise. Teachers are wise to point their students directly toward clear learning goals—to tell students exactly what knowledge they will be gaining and how they can use that knowledge. In addition, a strong foundational structure of basic concepts will give students a solid base on which to build further learning.
  3. Assessment-centered:
    Assessment-centered environments provide frequent formal and informal opportunities for feedback focused on understanding, not memorization, to encourage and reward meaningful learning. Feedback is fundamental to learning, but feedback opportunities are often too scarce in classrooms. Students may receive grades on tests and essays, but these are summative assessments at the end of projects. What is needed are formative assessments that allow students to revise and improve the quality of their thinking and understanding. The goal is for students to gain meta-cognitive abilities to self-assess, reflect and rethink for better understanding.
  4. Community-centered:
    Community-centered environments foster norms for people learning from one another and continually attempting to improve. In such a community, students are encouraged to be active, constructive participants. Further, they are encouraged to make—and then learn from—mistakes. Intellectual camaraderie fosters support, challenge, and collaboration.