Complexity Theory, Flourishing


The fundamental challenge of higher education lies in its ability to intentionally design thriving, innovative, educational spaces that nurture and inspire transcendent and transformational outcomes at the individual, group, and institutional levels. One of the most studied high impact practices, a well-crafted learning community that fosters student-centered learning driven by collaboration, interdisciplinary study, and experiential learning is hypothesized to be one such educational space. This research advances the academic conversation regarding learning communities beyond nominal conceptualization and proposes an operational definition grounded on three dominant dimensions: (1) differentiation/diversity, (2) integration/association, and (3) feed-back/assessment loops. By constructing a “complex learning community” index, we translate the nominal conceptualization of the learning community into a measurable construct. By implementing a pre- and post-test of all incoming first-year students participating throughout our University’s first-year learning communities over the course of two years, we offer insight as to learning community design and practices that influence transformational outputs, including flourishing and persistence.