Greetings. First off my apologies for the delay in closing this discussion. I was away at a conference towards the latter part of the week and my internet wasn't working over the weekend. Secondly, to provide closure to the discussion: We covered quite a bit over the two weeks.
Defining Learning Communities & Examples
We started with defining different types of learning communities, their target audience and their purpose. For example, we identified communities which were created for students, such as within courses and their associated components and planned interactions. Discussions expanded to communities of practice, Wenger?s definition and how these communities meet the needs of working professionals. The lines between different types of communities are fuzzy. For example, students may start with a learning community within their course which becomes a community of practice as they become practitioners in their field.
We?ve shared a variety of examples of communities we?ve experienced or helped to ?build?, including learning communities which complement formal academic learning. The idea that we can look at communities through different lenses and models was apparent. We touched upon only some of the possible perspectives. The notion of learning communities isn?t new and was in practice before all the technical functionality we can have now existed.
Factors & Issues
Our discussions identified a range of factors related to creating and maintaining learning communities. Specifically, we delved into motivational factors (e.g. required vs. voluntary participation), presence (cognitive, social, and teaching), developing a sense of community among members and factors related to continued involvement ? for example, is interaction sufficient for a learning community? Do students require more initially scaffolding and planning around interactions to help ?seed? the community and its potential growth? To what extent does shared values, a shared interest in knowledge-building/exchange or a shared practice (in a particular field) needed for a learning community?
This also led to the identifications of roles within the community such as that of the facilitator, members, community ?host? and how roles may change over time with members taking increased contributions, ownership of and perhaps leadership in the community?s direction. Community-building techniques and recommendations for facilitating were shared. As well, how much ?planning? of interactions or events is needed to start a community running and when does it become too contrived?
The thread about, ?longevity of community? prompted lively discussion around the role of the community member and their voice in the community. People may come and go in a community and the longevity of a community is partly dependent upon its purpose and how it serves the needs of its members.
This online discussion began as a result of two webinars on designing and creating learning communities. What struck me is that we speak about and hear a lot about learning communities and communities of practice (of which Wenger is a commonly cited source). Our discussions only touched upon some of the definitions, perspectives, factors and issues related to learning communities, and the resources made available through the webinars presented some models for designing learning communities, though more so for course or program-level communities. However, I found it very interesting and worthwhile for us to reflect, articulate and document some of our thoughts, experiences and perspectives related to learning communities and to share some other available resources. Thank you for your participation and I look forward to joining you in other discussions.Best,