Online learning communities
|Learning and Teaching in Practice|
|Module 8: Personalised learning and diagnostic assessments|
|Communities of Practice||Introduction | Online learning communities | Learning communities in practice | Summary|
In the previous section we looked at how a community of practice provides a learning environment for building and improving the shared practice of its learners. We also saw in the case studies how educators can participate in such communities either in relation to their subject (Emilia) or to their role as an educator (Brett).
Wenger's concept of the community of practice has been widely influential in education as well as in the corporate world.
Seeing the learning benefits of communities of practice, educators have incorporated aspects of this approach into courses, including:
- Sharing of information and resources through collaboration and interaction.
- Sharing personal and professional experiences and expertise.
- Learning through interaction with peers.
- Building knowledge and expertise through mentoring, including informal and peer mentoring.
However, educational courses tend to be of limited duration and scope: they usually involve a specific cohort of enrolled learners who come together for a single semester, say. There is clearly a tension here with the full-blown community of practice model which is sustained over the long term and where the membership gradually changes as members enter and leave the community.
Since it is not straight-forward to simply transplant the community of practice approach into education, it can be helpful and accurate to use the term learning community when such approaches are incorporated into courses.
To gain the benefits of the full community of practice approach, educators may also attempt to build a broader, more sustainable community through:
- Actively connecting learners to existing external communities.
- Creating opportunities for interaction and collaboration across multiple courses within a programme or across multiple programmes.
The communities of practice originally studied by Wenger and others were predominantly based on face-to-face interaction between members, often in informal settings such as in lunch-rooms rather than in formal meetings.
While this is often still the case for communities of practice within a single workplace, broader communities (such as the ones that Emilia and Brett belong to) tend to rely on online interaction. We have seen in the examples of Emilia and Brett above how they have incorporated the use of online tools to help build and maintain learning communities.
Siemens identifies the sorts of online tools that enable interaction and collaboration within an online community:
- A learning community is comprised of different spaces. Each space addresses a type of learning, as well as a stage in the learning process. The major spaces needed in an community are for:
- Gurus and Beginners to connect (master/apprentice)
- self-expression (blog, journal)
- debate and dialogue (listserv, discussion forum, open meetings).
Also these spaces enable the community to:
- search archived knowledge (portal, website)
- learn in a structured manner (courses, tutorials).
But successful communities often use a richer set of tools within a single system such as a learning management system which provides both synchronous chat and asynchronous forums. A social networking tool such as Ning also provides a rich set of features and tools which may be useful for building an online learning community, including a strong sense of 'personal presence' for members.
Another approach is to build a network of interlinked tools: e.g., separate individual blogs and/or wikis linked through tagging, RSS, blogrolls, comments and pingbacks.
The image on the right shows Adobe Connect, a synchronous learning platform which provides text, video and audio communication as well as a shared 'whiteboard' and other tools for collaboration.
Social networking tools