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:
- Organise activities around shared interests to promote engagement and alignment
- Establish a collaborative workspace for the community
- Shared development of artefacts, processes and practices (as explained by Paavola et al., 2011)
- Provide opportunities for learners to reflect on their shared experience (Wenger, 2010). This can be done through blogs, google + communities, or forums
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.