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Description (full page)

V1.0 Developed by Randy Fisher, MA and Gurmit Singh, M.Ed., January 2010.

Learning Communities (networked learning)

Learning communities are made up of people who share a common purpose. They collaborate to draw on individual strengths, respect a variety of perspectives, and actively promote learning opportunities. The outcomes are the creation of a vibrant, synergistic environment, enhanced potential for all members, and the possibility that new knowledge will be created.

(Defining Learning Communities, Sue Kilpatrick, Margaret Barrett and Tammy Jones, Faculty of Education, University of Tasmania, Australia. Paper presented at AARE Conference 2007)


Your Organization can gradually adapt current online / face-to-face courses and modules by providing your learners/students with access to ongoing peer and expert social and informal learning opportunities, with online mentoring support, in a virtual learning community.

Learning communities (LCs):

  • are strategically-designed and aligned to organizational vision, mission and culture
  • are an inclusive and participatory action-oriented model for continuous engagement across time and distance,
  • sustainably and scalably evolve existing face-to-face and elearning training into ongoing global networked conversations
  • facilitate competency development and leadership behaviour;
  • disseminate and implement the latest evidence for improving your professional field of interest

The LCs can be designed with appropriate curricula and pedagogic capacities; key champions and influencers engaged and nurtured, coached and mentored to lead within the larger community and sub-communities to sustain innovation, change and growth and implement strategies and policies for achieving your organization's stated mission.

Theoretical framework

  1. Distributed cognition and leadership
  2. Networked learning and networked organization
  3. Knowledge as a social good that is socially constructed and emergent in flow, not static
  4. Social capital development
  5. Lifelong learning in a knowledge networked economy
  6. Social constructivist and connectivist learning theories
  7. Complexity theory and organizational development theory


  1. Integrate LCs as part of your organization's interactive learning strategy and organizational development
  2. Teach your learners / students to use social media software (Facebook, Skype, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, iPhone apps. etc.) as part of their ongoing learning and sharing of new ideas
  3. Attach LCs as exciting participative, follow-on opportunities to online webinars and elearning modules/courses to promote deeper learning
  4. Engage partners and sponsors to grow communities on priority issues (i.e., governance, economic development, poverty, climate change, health, HIV AIDS, etc.)
  5. Link and network with course participants to collaborate globally on joint projects - for writing, research, communication, fundraising, campaigning, creating, remixing and re-using content - across time and distance, with a common goal to advance specific agendas and priorities for social change outcomes and increase performance.

Action Research Cycle

Action Research Cycle V1.0.jpg

In Essence

Teach, learn, live and work together through tapping the potential of social and informal learning in virtual networks of practice.


Research shows that the interactions required to sustain collaboration over an online learning community contributes to professional development in the following ways:

  1. First, professional learning is moving towards the Internet for distribution and access. (i.e, learning by doing and sharing with peers, creating, trying, applying, improving,networking, performing,)
  2. Second, structuring learning communities to foster ongoing collaboration encourages using colleagues as resources in an iterative cycle of discovering, enacting, and evaluating new practices. Hence, it builds 'participation awareness' and competence. Getting innovative approaches and ideas into practice is thus quicker, more intense, and more cost-effective. Knowledge is managed in and by the community, as tacit knowledge from practitioners is codified into explicit knowledge by synthesists and community leaders/experts in a collaborative, critical dialogue based on mutual trust, reflection and shared understandings. New knowledge is created and spread more rapidly without waiting for a workshop or an expert, as expertise resides in the community. Promotes change in values and attitudes socially as emotional bonds strengthen, which is essential if learning is to result in new behaviour (Candy, 1991; Kilpatrick, Bell & Falk, 1999) and unlearn old patterns that hamper effective performance and contribution to society.
  3. Third, the communities of practice that result from these collaborations have complex influences on the social structures that compose the institution. Hence, they contribute to organizational change. (Senge, 5th Discipline, 1999)
  4. Fourth, they particularly benefit those professionals who are emotionally and intellectually isolated and need/wish to be nurtured and motivated to keep improving and not give up in the face of initial hurdles. Peer-peer learning is better at engaging and motivating change sustainably, rather than a single instruction from a lecturer in a workshop.
  5. Fifth, at the highest level, a strong community can promote systems and social change by sharing risks and responsibilities, as well as rewards, and enhance community development, ultimately building a new world together.


The concept of Learning Communities draws on a wide body of theory related to learning and sociology. Learning communities have much to recommend them in an increasingly complex world where we cannot expect any one person to have sufficient knowledge and skills to confront the complexities of institutions, our society and individuals and the tasks these face. They are consistent with a constructivist approach to learning that recognises the key importance of interactions with others, and the role of social interactions in the construction of values and identity. For your organization and its stakeholders, Learning Communities can significantly mitigate risk and resistance to change and yield emergent opportunities for individuals and your organization in the increasingly complex world of the 21st century.


Bridges, William (2003). Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, 2nd edition. Perseus Books Group.

Brown, John Seely (2002). The Social Life of Learning: How Can Continuing Education Be Reconfigured in the Future. Retrieved January 6, 2010 from http://www.johnseelybrown.com/Social%20Life%20of%20Learning.pdf

Candy, P. (1991). Self-Direction for Lifelong Learning: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Fisher, Randy S. (2009). Primal Needs Gone Digital: Educators' Motivations in an Open Wiki Environment. Masters Project Paper, Fielding Graduate University, Master’s Program in Organizational Management and Development, Santa Barbara, California. Published in Public Domain wiki http://www.wikieducator.org/OMD/MPII/MP_Paper_II

Kilpatrick, S., Bell, R. & Falk, I. (1999). The role of group learning in building social capital, Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 51(1), pp. 129-144.

Pascale, T., Millemann, M., Gioja, L. (2000). Surfing the edge of chaos: The laws of nature and the new laws of business. New York, Three Rivers Press.

Raymond, Eric S. (2000). The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Version 3.0 Thyrsus Enterprises.

(others available upon request)