Building a Community of Learners

Essie Childers, Professor, Blinn College

“This is my favorite class!” “Is it time to leave already?” I stopped and smiled inside and out.

In teaching digital natives, it is imperative that a community of learners is established early in the semester to create effective and engaging learning experiences. Students want a safe environment in which they can feel comfortable and find joy in learning. Developing a community of learners creates a foundation for motivation, which Nilson describes as “a means stimulating the desire to learn something” (p. 51, 2010).

Do you want your students to be excited about learning your subject matter and attentive during class? If the answer is yes, I would like to recommend three best practices to foster a more active, engaged community of learners.

  1. Promote Student Autonomy

Allowing students to have a voice in their learning path helps boost a student’s self-efficacy. According to Barkley (2010), self-determination works together with self-efficacy. Your students will believe they can complete a task if they have a role in their success. For example, if you have students present an article or book report, offer different ways for the student to deliver the material. You may have students write their own learning contract that states the elements of their presentation and the date they will be ready to present.

  1. Build Confidence in your Students

Students who have been unsuccessful in the past may come to your class with a negative attitude. Does this attitude affect their performance? Of course it does. Barkley posits that faculty can help build their students’ confidence by providing clear directions, checkpoints, and deadlines. Introduce a “Things to Do” list to your students, or have them to create their own checklist of assignments. Begin or end your discussion with a motivational video or quote. If possible, provide students an opportunity to use a journal to reflect upon the video or quote.

  1. Student Discussions

In creating a community of learners, faculty promote a place where there is respect for other cultures. Barkley states that for a learning community to be authentic, all members must participate in an exchange of information. A good way to do this is to use the “Socrates Jar.” Students names are written on slips of paper and placed in the jar. During a lecture, the professor/instructor randomly pulls a name from the jar and asks that student a question. As you can imagine, the students become quite alert and attentive to the lecture.

Promoting student autonomy, building confidence of discouraged or disengaged students, and involving all students in class discussions are only a few of the many best practices to build a community of learners. These strategies have been shown to help students develop trust in the professor and a zone of comfort in the classroom. When students are connected and engaged in the learning process their grades are higher and their retention increases. What are some ways you build a community of learners?


Reference: Barkley, E. F (2010). Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.