Explore key principles and approaches for building learning communities through your teaching.

Key principles

There are some key principles that learning communities must possess. Effective learning communities have the following attributes/principles.

Relational and co-created

It is helpful to view learning and teaching as a relationship that is built intentionally between lecturers and students over the course of a module. As with all good human relationships, it acknowledges and mitigates differences in power by cultivating, as well as, communicating positive shared values and behavioural norms.


Creating intentionally positive learning relationships on the basis of shared values throws into sharp focus the key role of lecturers in serving as what Palmer (2017) has characterised as generous hosts. Here it is helpful to keep in mind two related points: first, the role of the host to ‘model’ relational learning and second, the potential for ‘good hosting’ to allow both lecturers and students to learn from the other’s perspectives.

Against this backdrop, it becomes possible for lecturers to apply a ‘hospitable sensibility’ to their thinking about how to create truly inclusive learning conversations that allow a range of voices to be heard from across a broad spectrum of differences and power positionalities.


Underpinning the relational, co-created, and hospitable dimensions, is ongoing reflection. Intrinsic to the work of a learning community, is continual reflection on its aims, values, and disciplinary practices.

How to cultivate learning communities

The following guidelines for cultivating learning communities can be used to identify priorities for connecting students in-person or online to support student engagement across all modes.  

Relational and co-created

When cultivating learning communities:

  • consider using part of the first session within a module to co-create a learning contract with your students, detailing shared values, group aims, and acceptable behaviour
  • support personal wellbeing by structuring in preparation time before each teaching session as well as time after the session - It is helpful to create time before each session to get mentally prepared, run through materials and check systems. Also supportive of personal wellbeing is an intentionally created short restorative period after the session
  • cultivate student engagement by encouraging students to share power and take ownership of their own learning. See our guidance on introducing specialism based learning into your curriculum
  • co-create to build a shared social awareness of the discipline by working with students to diversify the curriculum. For a detailed example of this work in practice, see the case study ‘Decolonising the Curriculum through Co-Creation in the Department of English’.


Ensure that you establish ‘hospitable’ routines – Establishing hospitable routines contributes to the creation of a positive group dynamic and sets the stage for inclusive learning. Examples of hospitable routines which can connect in-person and online students are:

    • greeting everyone by name
    • outlining plan for teaching
    • use of quizzes and games to promote active learning
    • ending with a short summarising task (such as a one-minute paper).

Also consider structuring lectures around linked ‘chunks’ that deal with key discipline-specific ‘problems’. 

Explicitly use seminars to engage students in developing, articulating, and defending critical perspectives on these ‘problems’.


Remember to:

  • actively cultivate reflection and feedback. For example, ask yourself and students, “how’s it going?” and “what needs to be revised?”
  • encourage metacognition – by building in thinking about learning.

The building learning communities checklist

Below are six key steps to building effective and sustainable learning communities.

  1. Recognise and address barriers to community as they affect in-person and online students.
  2. Establish and communicate a clear timetable for checking in on students’ learning.
  3. Establish hospitable routines that include self-care.
  4. Cultivate student engagement through interactive teaching methods.
  5. Co-create to develop a shared ownership of disciplinary-specific knowledge. 
  6. Build in opportunities for structured reflection across the whole module cycle.

References and further reading

Adapted from: Sansavior, E. (2020/21). ‘Building co-created learning communities through structured practices of reflection’ (draft publication). 

Palmer, P.J. (2017). The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

The Office for Students. (2020). "Digital poverty’ risks leaving students behind’, available at: https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/news-blog-and-events/press-and-media/digital-poverty-risks-leaving-students-behind/ (Links to an external site.)  

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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