Businesses are now pushing more so than ever before for schools and educators to adopt a community or learning community based approach to student education, in the hopes students will graduate with more applicable skill sets they can apply to the immediate global workplace.
Where did they originate?
Learning communities originated from "theory-drive evaluation" research focusing on school reform initiated by education policy specialists (Felner, et al., 1997:520). The idea was to create a central idea that would link students, educators, families, communities and businesses with each other so that information sharing and exchange networks could be created. The purposes of these networks was to prepare students for the future. The theory underlying this was one that established how important it was to understand the context in which children grow, develop and actively participate as members of society (Felner, et al., 1997). These ideas begin originated as early as the early 1980s (Bucknam & Brand, 1983) when researchers began meta-analysis of the successes and potential for experiential-based learning in the classroom. What researchers began to realize was experience-based education linked to community participation resulted in greater achievement, motivation and success following a student's academic career (Bucknam & Brand, 1983).
When did they become an educational trend?
Learning communities are now becoming part of educational reform, a new trend taking over higher education specifically (Shapiro, 2006). The National and Community Service Act, initiated in 1990 and later amended in 1993, began the trend of service or community-based learning programs. It did so as a method of "teaching and learning" that enabled youths to develop through service experiences in the community and through an integrated approach to the academic curriculum that enabled students to extend classroom learning to real-life learning, or experience-based learning (Alliance for Service-Learning in Education, 1993: 971; Owens & Wang, 1996). Learning communities are being adopted as educators begin realizing they can provide solutions to many problems existing in education, including the changing demographics of educational institutions reflecting a more diverse population base inclusive of individuals of differing ethnicities, cultures, economical status' and more (Laufgraben & Shapiro, 2004).
As the global market continues to become increasingly complex and diverse, learning communities will undoubtedly continue to grow in popularity and stature regionally, nationally and globally.
How do they affect the technology trend?
The technology trend is encouraging more and more schools to create new types of learning communities, ones that incorporate media and "virtual environments" to offer opportunities for "a national mix of kids working together to create online encyclopedias" and more (Dede, 2004). Dede (2004) notes the following, extracted from Bielczyc & Collins (1999): "The defining quality of a learning community is there is a culture of learning where everyone is involved in collective efforts of understanding" (p.10).
Dede (2004) suggests one of the biggest challenges educational institutions and the "system" faces in modern times is enabling students the ability to grasp "21st century skills and knowledge" so learners are prepared to participate in the new, technologically oriented, "global, knowledge-based civilization" (p.12). This means educators must understand technological innovations and engage in "just-in-time" learning and "information filtering" (Dede, 2004:12). Teachers can use computers to help discover information about subjects covered n the classroom, and also to engage in continuing education so they are abreast of the latest trends in learning and education. Computers and technology also offer educators and students alike the opportunity to participate in supportive forums that affirm the significance of keeping up-to-date with modern "instructional approaches" to keep students motivated and interested, rather than bored (Dede, 2004:12). Text-based multi-user virtual environments developed around modern stories and classical authors, including C.S. Lewis and even Harry Potter, are now common in educational institutions in New York and elsewhere as technology shapes and integrates within educational communities (Dede, 2004; 2003).
The introduction of technology has resulted in higher motivation and increased attendance, with parents reporting they are "more impressed by the complex material and sophisticated skills" their children learned in school and in urban areas of New York and other school communities (Dede, 2004:12).
Dede (2004) also notes that technology incorporated in the classroom also enables students to wear a "mask of technology" where "children's and teachers avatars could mingle without cultural constraints" leading to greater self-appreciation and motivational behaviors in the classroom (p.12).
How do they create a learning culture?
Gabelnick, MacGregor, Matthews & Smith (1990) note more and more university students reflect a diverse population, ranging in age from very young to very old, often falling outside of the context of the "traditional" college student, which usually encompasses an individual between "eighteen and twenty-two" and engaged in full-time learning on campus (p.6). This compared with the modern learner who may work part or full-time and engage in online and offline studies, attend multiple college and study differing majors (Shapiro, 2006).
Strategies to promote the learning culture?
Key to successful development of learning communities and the promotion of culture are five critical or core practices or elements, defined as: "community, diversity, integration, active learning and assessment" (Gabelnick, MacGregor, Matthews & Smith, 1990:102). These elements represent an "interlocking circle" and the "relationship between and among core practices" (Shapiro, 2006:550). To promote culture learning communities emphasize the role of faculty in supporting learning communities and creating culture, suggesting high school and college curricula and policies should align to foster greater success among students as they continue their academic career (Shapiro, 2006). Further, this streamlining of educational theory can be applied even at the elementary level, where students are first exposed to diverse cultural, ethnic and other demographic influences that help shape the culture of a learning community.
Dede (2003) comments a learning community culture is influenced by the diversity of expertise among people involved in the community and willing to help, the ability of the community to adopt a shared objective that will enhance collective knowledge and skills, and an emphasis on helping others "learn how to learn" (p.10).
Learning communities grew out of theoretical research suggesting the context for learning should be one that encourages students to develop practical education through integrated learning and community-based experiences. Students in New York and other school districts engaged in community-based learning or learning communities learn that education is not limited to the classroom, but instead extends to the community they live in, the businesses that serve them and the families that support them throughout the academic process. Learning communities encourage greater participation and higher success and achievement among students and teachers alike, thus are likely to become a lasting "trend" in educational reform and development. The link in the chain that needs to remain firm is support offered by federal and state agencies interested in seeing school reform that creates motivated and participative students.
Alliance for Service Learning in Education Reform. (1993, Sep). Standards for quality school-based service learning. Equity and Excellence in Education, 26(2): 71-73.
Bielaczyc, K. & Collins, a. (1999). Learning communities in classrooms: A reconceptualization of educational practice," Instructional-Design Theories and Models: A New Paradigm of Instructional Theory, Vol. II, Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Bucknam, R., & Brand, S. (1983, Mar). EBCE really works: A meta-analysis on experience-based career education. Educational Leadership, 40(6):66-71
Dede, C. (2003). No cliche left behind: Why educational policy is not like the movies,
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Dede, C. (2004). Enabling distributed learning communities via emerging technologies part one. The Journal (Technological Horizons in Education), 32(2):12.
Felner, R.D., Flowers, N., Jackson, a.W., Kasak, D., Mulhall, P. (1997). The project on high performance communities: Applying the land-grant model to school reform. Phi Delta Kappan, 78(7):520.
Gabelnick, F., MacGregor, J., Matthews, R., & Smith, B. (1990). Learning communities:
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