Learning in Communities: Why is it important to me?

Learning in communities – why is this important to me? Recently when I started on a course on open networked learning (ONL course), what drew me to this was the concept of learning in communities. In particular, the topic on “learning in communities – networked and collaborative learning” has been of special interest to me.

Learning in communities is a social activity in which learners engage, imagine and align themselves to have a sense of belonging to the community (Wenger, 1998, 2010). It is the role of social interactions that plays a key part in facilitating learning. When learners are engaged in  conversations with peers,  ample opportunities to collaborate and share resources, information and ideas arise enabling them to build the foundation for a community. Wenger (2010) articulates that the strength of learning in communities is in its “social structure” and “identity”. He concludes that for meaningful learning and engagement in social context, two process need to happen: (1) learners need to participate and engage in learning activities, dialogues, conversations, and reflections, and (2) learners need to create artifacts and practices, that can be in the form of documents, resources, strategies, stories, and more importantly, they need to reflect on their shared experiences.

This connection between community and learning is a priority for me in my line of work.  And hence there was a need for me to explore how building a community of practice can enable the creation of spaces for learning; and how technology can foster community and information exchange. And so in 2011, I helped in putting together a programme at our own university that would focus on learning in communites (Ragupathi & Hubbal, 2015). The programme’s focus was to enable colleagues to engage in an informal dialogue around topics of teaching, learning, and technology.

Reflecting on this programme, the readings on this topic and my own experience at this ONL course, I find some parallels and some new learnings. The strength of this programme was in its focus on stimulating discussions and reflective dialogues about their educational practice around a new instructional tool that is the focus of the discussion. Such a community was helpful in promoting early career academics at my university to safely attempt their hands in implementing educational innovations based on the successes from their peers. What is possibly lacking is in the reflection of our shared experience, and opportunities for realignment between shared knowledge from the community and one’s own personal experience.

What can we introduce in the programme to foster better engagement of the learning community. Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. Organise activities around shared interests to promote engagement and alignment
  2. Establish a collaborative workspace for the community
  3. Shared development of artefacts, processes and practices (as explained by Paavola et al., 2011)

    tialogical-approach-on-learning
    Figure: Trialogical approach on learning (Paavola & Hakkarainen, 2009)
  4. Provide opportunities for learners to reflect on their shared experience (Wenger, 2010). This can be done through blogs, google + communities, or forums

References: 

Paavola, S., Lakkala, M., Muukkonen, H., Kosonen, K., & Karlgren, K. (2011). The roles and uses of design principles for developing the trialogical approach on learning. Research in Learning Technology, 19(3), 233–246

Ragupathi, K. & Hubball, H. (2015). Scholarly Approaches to Learning Technology Integration in a Research-Intensive University Context: Impact of a New Faculty Initiative, Transformative Dialogues, Volume 8, Issue 1.

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E. (2010). Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems: the Career of a Concept In Blackmore, C. (Eds) Social Learning Systems and Communities of Practice, (179-198),The Open University, 2010, Springer-Verlag London Limited.

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9 thoughts on “Learning in Communities: Why is it important to me?

  1. Thank you for this post! I enjoyed reading your article, and think you and your co-author raise an important and interesting issue. This is something I am thinking a lot about at the moment since my alma mater is trying to find a path to digitalization, but the community or networking part is missing.

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  2. Being part of a true learning community is an inspiring experience. However there are many uncertainties involved in community building. Everyone in the group has to buy into the concept and participate, otherwise you get an imbalance and the risk of conflict. The value of the community is dependent on the full participation of everyone.

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  3. I like your blog. I think it is important to establish common shared places and organize activities in that community. But I also think that it is even more important to establish a clear leadership to avoid surface learning. The organisation is not enough, but the management of that that organisation will direct the learning towards the desired course outcome, and then the entire process will be in constructuve alignment.

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  4. Thank you, I really like your post! Communication and collaboration in a collaborative learning environment can be the key to success.

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  5. Thank you for an interesting and inspiring reading. I do agree with you, learning in a community is indeed a social activity in which learners need to be engaged in sharing information, knowledge and ideas. During topic 3 it became clear to me that collaborative learning is based on the view that knowledge is a social construct. By this social construct participants can benefit in a number of ways, e.g. develop higher-level thinking, oral communication, self-management, and leadership skills. In other word learning in a community contributes with an added value.

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  6. I really enjoyed reading this post as one of the areas that I’m working on is to encourage our lecturers to share their reflections and teaching experiences with each other. And I particularly liked your comment: “What is possibly lacking is in the reflection of our shared experience, and opportunities for realignment between shared knowledge from the community and one’s own personal experience.” It has definitely given me some thoughts and ideas on how to create a space for our lecturers to share more openly, and to establish this social presence in developing a learning community among them.

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