The mission of the National Learning Communities Association (NLCA) is to foster college student learning, success, and development through the production and dissemination of knowledge that informs learning community theories, policies, practices, programs, and professional development enacted by higher education faculty, staff, and administrators.
NLCA Definition of Learning Communities
Learning communities represent intentional educational approaches to improve the teaching and learning experience. These approaches often emphasize integration of the curriculum and co-curriculum and prioritize community-building among faculty, staff, and a cohort of students. Implementation of these efforts may come in different forms, but typically incorporates at least one of the following:
- A curricular structure characterized by a cohort of students participating in an intentionally designed integrative study of an issue or theme through connected courses, curriculum, experiences, and resources.
- A cohort of students living in a residential community intentionally designed via a faculty-staff partnership to facilitate integration between academic and residential curricula.
Common examples* include:
Cohorts of students enrolled in two or more courses led by different faculty members who identify common student learning outcomes and intentionally integrate curriculum as demonstrated by students on scaffolded integrative assignments and assessments. These are not residentially based communities.
Student cohorts that live together in residence and either a) engage in integrated academic content through an integrative curriculum offered through coursework supported by co-curricular programming or b) participate in residential programming or engage in a residential curriculum co-designed by residence life/housing staff and a faculty partner(s) that complements an academic curriculum. Either approach is represented through clear collaboration between Residence Life/Student Life and Academic Affairs.
A residential college (RC) is a collegiate residential environment in which live-in faculty play an integral role in the programmatic experience and leadership of the community. Features may include academic department association, Academic Affairs and Student Affairs partnerships, linked courses, curricular and co-curricular programming infused into RC, and traditional programs/social events.
Coordinated Studies Programs
Coordinated studies programs are thematically linked courses fulfilling a students’ full semester course schedule. Courses are team-taught by two or more faculty. Some institutions register students for a single course of 8-16 credits while others register students for multiple courses.
* The examples above are based on the work of the National Learning Communities Collaborative. The National Learning Communities Collaborative is an informal group of learning community practitioners and researchers representing organizations whose efforts are directly related or contribute to advocacy, research, and scholarship within learning community theory and practice. This cohort has been engaging in ongoing dialogue to explore the current state and future direction of learning communities.