IAMSE Fall 2022 Session 4 Highlights

[The following notes were generated by Michele Haight, PhD.]

Presenter: Caroline Harada MD, Associate Professor Internal Medicine, Leader of Geriatrics Consult Service and Assistant Dean for Community Engaged Scholarship at the Heersink School of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham

Lauren Parker MA, Director of Programs at the University of Kansas School of Medicine

Learning Communities: Creating Structures for Peer Support
The Learning Communities Institute is an organization of health professions schools that has the mission of building connections in medical education and serves as a valuable resource for developing learning community programs within health professions schools.

Framing Student Success
Elucidate the connections between learning communities and student success.
Acknowledge that setbacks are normal and work on the growth and development of students.
Student progress is a collaboration among many faculty in many departments. This shared effort is based on the following principles:

  • Flexibility
  • Inclusivity
  • Interconnectivity
  • Collaboration

These principles are critical operational processes necessary for achievement, implementation and desired outcomes.

Institutional commitment is a shared vision by all stakeholders in the university who are responsible for student success as measured through implementation and impact, and the ability for continued growth and development. These values are representative of the institutional culture.

Learning Communities 101
A learning community is an intentionally developed longitudinal group that aims to enhance studentsā€™ medical school experience and maximize learning. The goal is to foster among students a higher level of engagement and intellectual interaction with peers, faculty and the curriculum.

Increasing student engagement facilitates retention and success.
Learning communities came about because of learning development theory which seeks to understand studentsā€™ moral identity, their process of developing identity and dealing with challenges and getting support through those challenges.

Learning communities are well established in higher education, but relatively new to medical education.

Functional Areas in Learning Communities for Peer Support

  • Student Support Systems
  • Small Group Curriculum Delivery
  • Professional Identity Formation

There are many different ways to structure a learning community. The structure of a learning community varies widely as each is tailored to the individual institution. Learners are generally assigned to their learning communities at the very beginning of medical school. Typically, students remain in these same learning communities for all four years.

Benefits of learning communities include the following:

  • Better clinical skills
  • Increased student satisfaction with advising systems and wellness programming
  • Improved student interpersonal relationships
  • Greater student connectedness to faculty in small group learning
  • Enhanced faculty satisfaction

Learning Communities as Peer Support

Encourage community building as an investment in the future.

  • Students with strong support networks enable faculty to identify students with difficulty earlier
  • and provide earlier interventions.
  • A support system prevents students from getting into difficulty because they are happier and
  • well supported through strong relationships.
  • Assigned space is useful for community building.

Peer advising/coaching/mentoring/tutoring

  • Mitigate feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and social isolation.
  • Provide opportunities for near peer support.
  • Structure activities into the academic calendar.
  • Learning community leadership undergoes mandatory training.
  • Leadership group meets monthly .

Programming to support group development

  • Build connections, collegiality and respect at orientation to establish the culture of the
  • learning environment.
  • Engage in activities that cultivate an awareness and collective value for inclusion and belonging
  • and an appreciation for differences within the context of student success.


  • Institute for Inclusive Teaching at the University of Michigan social and personal identity exercises
  • StoryCorps civil discourse conversation guide