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Learning Strategy Series - 2 By Justin Griffith, Ed.D.

Learning Strategy Series

In a series of short introductions to adult learning strategies, I’m presenting useful tips, techniques, and concepts for both learner and instructor.

Primary Steps to Build a Live Community of Learners

By Justin Griffith, Ed.D.

Chief Executive Officer of the Regional Learning Alliance

I’ve been in, around, researching, creating, or guiding a learning environment my entire career. Along the way, I’ve learned volumes about building a community of learners. By definition, a community of learners is a group of learners who share goals and who actively engage in learning from each other. This includes mutual learning between instructors and students. The ideal learning environment is created to be highly engaging, creative, and active—it allows students to exhibit critical thinking skills and idea generation. It should offer connections between peers (cross-generational) and a place without fear of judgement.

Any course, regardless of whether it is a day-long program or a semester-long class, has the potential to convene a “live community of learners.” Along the way, as I’ve examined detailed illustrations of outstanding learning environments, I’ve ascertained the steps to building a thriving community of learners, and I’ve listed them below. I am sharing an abbreviated perspective, and this is not meant to be inclusive. You may have your own expertise to supplement these steps that have proven successful for you as the instructor and/or student. My goal is to help others as they work to create an ideal learning environment.


1. Create relationships with each learner

Learners should be encouraged to make emotional connections within the group. When instructors are open with learners, learners will be open with each other.

2. Encourage and expect learner participation and active engagement

Learners should be asked to share their thoughts, their opinions, and their stories.

3. Create a space of safety, without fear of judgement

A tone should be explicitly set by the instructor from the beginning. Then, the instructor should display the importance of sharing ideas without fear of judgement.

4. Small groups are important for effectiveness

If groups are too large (more than 18), much of the ability to enact the previous four steps can be lost. Therefore, give opportunities to create a community within a community (four to six students), especially if the group is larger.

Most people feel more comfortable in smaller groups: individuals are more willing to be open, and this will aid the development of belonging to the larger group.

5. Build a model of active participation

Every learner is a member of the classroom at that point in time, and each has a part in communicating and participating in the group. Every learner will have differing levels of communication apprehension, which will affect active participation. The closer you get to equal, active participation, the more rewarding the result.

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