Communities of practice and professional learning communities support learners by allowing them to identify with the subject matter and with other learners. CoPs and PLC often surround one subject matter or a group of people giving the participants a common understanding of each other. They are all high school math teachers or as O’Donnell and Tobbell (2007) studied, adult learners entering into higher education. Within the CoP or PLC participants can share ideas, work through problems, collaborate new innovations, analyze date, conduct assessments as well as a number of other possibilities (Adams, 2009). All these give the participants access to learn new things. However, the learner must be willing to participate fully to get the most out of the learning community (O’Donnell & Tobbell, 2007). The term “you get what you give” works well to describe this. If a participant does not give their full capacity to the learning community they may not get everything out of the community they are hoping for or is available.
CoPs and PLC support teaching by creating collaboration. Teachers can use communities of practice to get their students to work together on a specific task or goal. A high school math teacher can have all her math classes get together to solve a difficult problem, exchange numbers for math help or study session. Professional organization can use CoPs to have their new employees meet other new employees to share experiences. They can also lead discussions about the company history, company philosophy and best practices to these new employees.
I am personally involved with a few Professional Learning Communities. The Association of College Unions International, to which I am a member, provides union professionals the ability to connect with other professionals within specific disciplines. I participate in a “best practices with student employees” community and a facilities and operation community. There are opportunities to share what I am doing as well as take and adapt other ideas. We also assist each other to solve problems and discuss the issues that are affecting our campuses.
With web 2.0, communities of practice and professional learning communities can become even stronger. Learning in Web 1.0 has changed to a more social, peer to peer, and enabling style of learning with Web 2.0 (Gunawardena et al., 2009). CoPs and PLC benefit from this by using many new websites to bring people together. Using specific hashtags in Twitter and Facebook allow learners searching for the hashtag to find pertinent information. Even with Instagram, a photo can be hashtaged and have a visual representation of interest for the community. Online classes at their core create a CoP by bringing a group of students together to learn about one specific topic. As demonstrated by Conrad (2008) online students, though they can live across the world potentially, feel a sense of membership and connection to the online group (p. 7). Web 2.0 is and will continue to allow for social learning, which is the main concept behind CoPs and PLCs, making Web 2.0 a perfect host for these communities of learning.
In large part my learning activity surrounds the concept of CoPs and PLCs. I want to create a number of learning communities where my student employees can connect with other student employees from other institutions. Our graphic designers can share ideas and concepts with other student graphic designers, same with our audio visual technicians, programmers, schedulers and building managers. As these classifications are common through the student union field, it will give the students an opportunity to learn from each other. There could be supervisor lead discussions or moderated programs to help the various disciplines tackle current issues from the student perspective.
Besides the above mentioned items, what else could I do, long distance, to foster the communities? The students may never talk face to face but I want that personal relationship, what are some ways to accomplish that?
Here are some links to help understand communities of practice and their full potential.
Adams, C. (2009). The Power of Collaboration. Instructor, 119(1), 28-31.
Conrad, D. L. (2008). From community to community of practice: Exploring the connection of online learners to informal learning in the workplace. The American Journal of Distance Education, 22, 3-23.
Gunawardena, C. N., Hermans, M. B., Sanchez, D., Richmond, C., Bohley, M., & Tuttle, R. (2009). A theoretical framework for building online communities of practice with social networking tools.Educational Media International, 46(1), 3-16.
O’Donnell, V. L., & Tobbell, J. (2007). The transition of adult students to higher education: Legitimate peripheral participation in a community of practice? Adult Education Quarterly, 57(4), 312-328.