Today I’ll be discussing Communities of Practice and Professional Learning Communities. What are they? How are they similar, yet unique? How can they enhance teaching? How does technology come into the mix?
Communities of Practice (CoPs) and Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are both communities of people where the exchange of knowledge occurs, however the terms are not interchangeable. Etienne Wenger (2006) defines a CoP as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”. All Things PLC (n.d.) describes a PLC as a community with a “focus on learning”, “a collaborative culture”, “collective inquiry into best practice and current reality”, includes “learning by doing”, “a commitment to continuous learning” which is “results oriented”. Although there are a variety of definitions available, the above illustrates both the similarities and differences inherent in the terms. CoPs can occur anywhere at any time, as PLCs can, but the latter has usually taken place within a workplace.
PLCs support “continuous personal improvement” through knowledge sharing and finding solutions to problems in a collective environment (Adams, 2009 p. 2).Cranston(2011) finds that relational trust is paramount to the efficacy of a PLC in that it facilitates the open exchange of knowledge in a safe environment. The goal of a PLC is for members to learn and grow as a group vis-à-vis group collaboration. CoPs work in much the same way as Huang, Yang, Huang and Hsiao (2010) find that CoPs realize collective learning. Both CoPs and PLCs can support teaching given the motivation of forming a community with a shared interest and/or goals. By virtue of the fact of implicit knowledge exchange, it is up to the individual participant to actualize knowledge through teaching. CoPs and PLCs are supportive environments for trial and error where individuals can benefit from the intelligence of the whole.
Technology can act as the vital role through forming and supporting a CoP. Although Huang, Yang, Huang and Hsiao’s (2010) research focused on the formation of CoPs through shared interests and reading history, creating CoPs was done completely virtually. The mobile aspect of learning networks in general makes CoPs possible because of the restraints of physical space. Even though CoPs can occur in a physical environment, mobile technology allows conversations and knowledge exchange to continue without time constraints. On the other hand, PLCs benefit from the physical aspect of the meeting. Adams(2009) finds that PLC schools have even re-arranged their class schedules in order to make time for physical meetings. Technology could enhance the conversation throughout the week when the meeting is not taking place, but the physical setting seems to be necessary to build relational trust; the PLCs thatCranston(2011) studied were all rooted in physical meetings.
My final project for this course will include blended learning. This week’s focus on CoPs and PLCs made me realize the potential importance of forming an online community, in addition to the physical classroom, and the implications it could have for knowledge retention. By further building the student’s relational trust, they will be more comfortable in conversing in English on an online, class discussion group. A class Wiki, where an asynchronous discussion forum would be available, is a great tool to meet this end. Written discussion would allow students to practice contributing to a discussion in English, my only question lies in the form of the discussion group. Would adding an element of Skype among students act to enhance verbal practice or would it detract from the focus of the discussion topic?
About PLCs. (n.d.). All Things PLC: All information, no commerce. Retrieved from http://www.allthingsplc.info/about/aboutPLC.php
Adams, C. (2009). The power of collaboration. Instructor, 119(1), 28-31.
Cranston, J. (2011). Relational trust: The glue that binds a professional learning community. [Article]. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 57(1), 59-72.
Huang, J. J. S., Yang, S. J. H., Yueh-Min, H., & Hsiao, I. Y. T. (2010). Social learning networks: Build mobile learning networks based on collaborative services. [Article]. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 13(3), 78-92.
Wenger, E. (June, 2006). Communities of practice: a brief introduction. Retrieved from http://www.ewenger.com/theory/