Learning Communities

Faculty & Professional Learning Communities

"Academic culture is a curious and conflicted thing.  On the one hand, it holds out the allure and occasionally the reality of being a 'community of scholars.' On the other hand, it is a culture infamous for fragmentation, isolation, and competitive individualism--a culture in which community sometimes feels harder to come by than in any other institution on the face of the earth" (Palmer, 2002, p. 179).

What is a Learning Community?

A voluntary, structured, yearlong, multidisciplinary community of practice of around 8-12 members that includes goals of building community.  In higher education, a learning community should have a goal involving the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.  In a higher ed learning community, membership may include faculty, graduate students, and/or professional staff.  Members of this type of learning community engage in an active, collaborative program with a curriculum around enhancing learning and teaching or improving an institutional program.  Members may have individual projects and/or a group project (Cox, 2011).  

There are two types of FPLCs, cohort-based and topic-based.  Cohort-based learning communities address the "teaching, learning, and developmental or institutional needs of a cohort of faculty and/or staff."  Topic-based learning communities address a "special campus teaching, learning, policy or program need, issue or opportunity" (Cox, 2011).

Learning Communities are more structured than teaching circles, book clubs, seminars, courses, or brown bag series.  They are more than formal committees and project teams.  They are not support, self-development or counseling groups.  They are not as formal as action learning sets (Cox, 2011).

Learning Community Examples

Cohort Based Learning Communities can include such cohorts as:

  • Department Chairs
  • Mid-to-Late Career Faculty
  • New/Junior Faculty
  • Future Faculty
  • Adjunct Faculty
  • Future Faculty

Topic Based Learning Communities can include such topics as:

  • Student Behaviors
  • Administration
  • Assessment
  • Cooperative/Collaborative Learning
  • Critical Thinking
  • Developing or Revising a Curriculum
  • Ethics
  • First-Year Experience
  • General Teaching Topics
  • Initiating a PFF Program
  • Problem-Based Learning
  • Research Methods
  • Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
  • Service Learning
  • Specific Teaching Methods
  • Technology (Distance, General, or Specific Focus)
  • Diversity/Difference
  • Writing
  • Universal Design for Learning
  • e-Portfolios

Characteristics of a FPLC

According to Cox (2011), Faculty and Professional Learning Communities:

  • meet for a period of at least 6 months
  • have voluntary membership
  • set meeting time and environment conducive to learning
  • treat individual projects in the same way
  • employ the Kolb (1984) experiential learning cycle
  • develop empathy among members
  • operate by consensus, not majority
  • develop their own culture, openness, and trust
  • engage complex problems
  • energize and empower participants
  • have the potential of transforming institutions into learning organizations
  • are holistic in approach

Benefits of a FPLC

According to Lenning and Ebbers (1999), participating in a LC has the following benefits:

  • diminished isolation
  • a shared purpose and cooperation among colleagues
  • increased curricular integration
  • a fresh approach to one's discipline
  • increased satisfaction with student learning
  • retention of new faculty members involved in FPLCs is higher


"Faculty learning communities are a powerful means to encourage vibrant intellectual exchange and professional growth on college campuses.  Moving educators out of traditional departmental and disciplinary silos helps to foster an institutional culture of collegial interaction.  At their best, faculty learning communities create a safe and fertile environment where faculty can thrive as learners" (Goto, Marshall, & Gaule, 2010, pp. 20-21).