This study provides empirical evidence of the impact of learning communities on outcomes for public speaking students, including grades, speaking anxiety, and student and instructor perceptions. Subjects (n = 236, half of whom took the course in freshman learning communities and half in traditional sections) perceived the learning community as the preferable environment for public speaking, and students with greater speaking anxiety were more likely to self-select into learning communities. Perception, however, was not reality: Participation in a learning community made no measurable difference in terms of course outcomes of grades or decline in speaking anxiety.

The findings challenge assumptions about the relationship between speaking anxiety and audience familiarity and friendliness. While the first-year learning community may benefit the institution as a whole with modest gains in retention, it does not appear to offer particular advantages to public speaking students. Indeed, it may isolate students with the weakest public speaking confidence levels and provide no opportunities for exposure to more seasoned students who can model appropriate college-level performance standards and classroom behavior.

This study fills a gap in the literature about the impact of learning communities on the communication discipline, and adds insight to our knowledge of pedagogical approaches to reducing speaking anxiety.