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Being part of a learning community

Learning communities in higher education may be more diverse than you think.
A group of four people in discussion at a table.
© Alex Holland

There’s sometimes an incorrect perception that learners in Higher Education all have similar backgrounds, experiences, and are all of a similar age.

However, the reality is different. Students in Higher Education are from diverse communities with a range of backgrounds and prior learning experiences. This enriches the experience of the entire learning community.

Dr Tamlyn Ryan, an Inclusive Learning Advisor at the University of York, has worked extensively with mature students and was a mature student herself. She has the following advice for mature students embarking on higher education programmes in university settings:

“A key piece of advice for mature students as they start in higher education would be to not panic! Going to University as a mature student can feel quite daunting but there are more mature students returning to education than ever before. Take advantage of offered help, don’t be afraid to ask fellow mature students and staff for advice. And persevere! Nothing is insurmountable. To help you, you could arrange to visit campus ahead of your start date, check whether the university has any mature students’ social media accounts or whether they have a buddying system in place. The university might also hold induction events for mature students, which can provide an excellent way for you to familiarise yourself with uni before you start your course. The important thing to remember is that you are never alone, there is always going to be someone who can offer you assistance with anything at all, and all you have to do is ask.” – Dr Tamlyn Ryan, Inclusive learning Advisor.
Jill Webb is the Associate Dean for Teaching, Learning and Students for the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of York. An associate dean is a leadership role relating to learning and teaching for a group of departments (often grouped together as a ‘faculty’).
“For a long time I have focused on the things I haven’t had when thinking about how I stood in relation to my peers – an independent education, parents who went to university, access to people in professional roles, a posh accent. These things do sometimes put me at a disadvantage but recently I’ve realised that my own upbringing, my mates from home and the community in which I grew up are massive assets in terms of the way I approached Higher Education and how I now approach my career. This is my “social capital” and its made me really care about the people around me, taught me to work hard and to want to make a difference to people’s lives and helped me see that being honest, having a sense of humour and getting on with things can be just as valuable (or sometime more valuable) than networking or saying the right things or being uber-polite!” – Jill Webb, Associate Dean for Teaching, Learning and Students for the Faculty of Social Sciences.

In addition to these personal reflections, there are many initiatives within universities that support widening access to, and participation in, Higher Education for a range of diverse communities of students. For example, a number of care experienced students recently shared their experience of making choices about Higher Education as part of National Care Leavers Week. Recently, a number of universities and colleges have signed the GTRSB into Higher Education Pledge. Part of this commitment is to ensure a welcoming and inclusive environment for GTRSB students from Gypsy, Traveller, Roma, Showman and Boater (GTRSB) communities.

The University of York employs students in the role of Departmental Community Coordinators. The Departmental Community Coordinators organise activities/events where students can talk to each other, share personal stories and experiences and learn about the department and York from students’ unique and meaningful perspectives to help build inclusive communities.

Over to you

  • What might be the benefits of feeling that you are part of a community as a learner in Higher Education?
  • Is being part of a community something that is important to you?
  • How might being part of a community have a positive impact on your learning?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

© University of York
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