In this blog on topic 4 I will give a short view of the history of Community in Practices and then elaborate a bit about the differences between Learning Communities and Personal Learning Networks. Finally, I illuminate some characteristics of a learning community online and reflect upon my PBL groups journey in relation to that.

Community of Practice (CoP)

Lave and Wenger presented the concept of Community of Practice (CoP) already in 1991 (Lave & Wenger, 1991) and Wenger has further developed his thoughts about situated learning published in 1998 (Wenger, 1998). Being a scholar in the subject of Education, this is well known theories that has guided my work as a teacher in early childhood, primary school and higher ed. for long. Wenger (2010) describes communities of practice as a social learning system, as main characteristics such as structure, organization, complexity, relationships, and so on can be related to systems in general. From my perspective, the ideas about online learning communities and online learning network/personal learning networks (PLN) thus are old ideas in somewhat new suits. Of course, todays’ context with a higher degree of online learning and that the internet contributes with both access to a lot of knowledge as well as relationships although we are spread all over the world, demand some kind of rethinking. As Anderson (2008) discusses, theories may help us understand parts of the reality or illustrate our visions. “Good theories build upon what is already known, and help us to interpret and plan for the unknown” (Anderson, 2008, introd. ch. 2). Ally (2008) capture some basic perspectives on learning and the implications for online learning, from behaviorism, via cognitivism and constructivism to land in connectivism. For me, this description lacks quite a few nuances of learning, especially since constructivism seems to be an umbrella for a wide range of perspectives. In addition, there are newer perspectives that get invisible. Still, I understand the need to pick a few. It though provokes me a bit that it sometimes appears as the online and digital learning movement have somewhat found the answers to educational issues that educational theorists have for long elaborated upon and that digital tools are the solutions for all challenges in education, although a challenge in itself. Anyhow, back to learning communities.

Learning communities vs personal learning networks

According to Oddone (2019, video 1) there are differences between a learning community and an online learning network. In addition, I believe a community of inquiry may add further dimensions to collaborative groups online which I will further elaborate upon in the blog for topic 4. I think the definition or maybe rather the description of what a learning community might be in short could be a group for collaboration where individuals support each other and make use of each other and different perspectives in the process of exploring a content/topic, constructing knowledge.  For me, there are though, a difference between an online learning community and a physical learning community from my perspective as a teacher. A learning community online can connect beyond time and place in their own community online space through different technologies. The challenge here for the teacher is to enable relationships to be built and engagement and activity to flourish (Brindley & Walti, 2009). More about this in when discussing design in the blog of topic 4. In the first video by Oddone (2019), she elaborates upon learning communities and personal learning network (PLN) – our own informal learning network that may arise spontaneously and give personal benefits not necessary in relation to content or profession. She refers to Wenger and how he explains about the difference between social learning communities and learning networks: “Two aspects of the social fabric which have different effects on learning potential” (Wenger et al. 2011, p.10).  As Oddone says in video 1, communities “are more tightly knit and may have restrictions and are often created for a particular purpose”. Communities are according to Oddone “developed around a shared interest, passion or goal, may be formal or informal, members wish to advance knowledge about a shared domain, create a sense of identity, and a shared practice”. Networks on the other hand, are described as more openly weaved with although it is the same thread where nodes are created due to the members needs and communication-/collaboration patterns. Networks may be formed by chance or intentional, and have no collective intention or design and as such are without commitments as well. (Oddone, video 1, time 17:39). As such, networks differ from learning communities as memberships in networks may change, in a personal learning network you have your own personal needs and interests in focus and the ties may be both strong and week according to Oddone (video 2). Still, smaller communities can exist alongside a wider network.

When reflecting on my own situation I would honestly say that except for this course I don’t have any PLN online and do not belong to a learning community online. Still, my learning community at work with some of my colleagues sometimes move online due to distances, Covid or other reasons. Of course, I have colleagues from abroad that I meet in projects and so on, but I do not consider them as my learning community, although I might should. I will therefore not elaborate further on that, but try to describe our process in the PBL-group.

Reflection on our PBL-group process in relation to main characteristics of a learning community online

In our PBL-group we started by asynchronously discuss what a learning community is, central characteristics and functions of learning communities from our experiences. We used some new tools for me, Lino and Flipgrid in the process which was a good training for me. To brake our habitual pattern, we decided to try to work with the same main references when investigating the topic, so that we could discuss our experiences in relation to the same papers. In earlier topics we had agreed on some questions to investigate and then asynchronously made our own investigation with the questions as starting points, still inspiring each other in our conversations in google drive, padlet etc. We had a really nice synchronous conversation about the papers we had read: Learning Communities: How Do You Define a Community? (West & Williams, 2018) and Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment (Brindely, Walti & Blaschke, 2009)

We then started to reflect on our own journey as a learning community. We made use of West and Williams (2018) four aspects or defining characteristics of a learning community in our further investigation about how to foster learning communities online. The four characteristics pointed out by West and Williams are; access, relationships, vision and function. In addition, we also combined these aspects with the KWL-model, know, want to know, and learned, in original from Ogle (1986) but emphasized in diverse settings such as for example Academic Success Center

Picture developed by members in my PBL-group.

When everyone had made their own reflection in relation to this illustration and shared those, we realized that we first had been working in a group as individuals with diverse interests and competencies, and after a while we started to work more as a group, not only contributing with our individual work but sharing narratives and creating knowledge together. See our SWAY-presentation for topic 3.

In the blog of topic 4, I will return to my understanding of a learning community, in relation to community of inquiry and how to support and facilitate such collaborative groups online as a teacher in higher ed. when designing and running a course. I will there focus blended learning in terms of synchronous and asynchronous moments.

Thank you for reading.


Academic Success Center, available at


Ally, M (2008). Foundations of educational theory for online learning. In The theory and practice of online learning. (chapter 1). Athabasca university press.

Anderson, T.  (2008). Teaching in an online learning context. In The theory and practice of online learning. (chapter 2). Athabasca university press.

Brindely, J E., Walti, E. & Blaschke, L M. (2009). Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 10(3). SSN: 1492-3831. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/26627896_Creating_Effective_Collaborative_Learning_Groups_in_an_Online_Environment

Lave, J. & Wenger (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-42374-8

Oddone , K. (2019). PLNs Theory and practice part 1, Youtube

Oddone , K. (2019). PLNs Theory and practice part 2, Youtube

Ogle, D. (1986) K-W-L: A Teaching Model That Develops Active Reading of Expository Text. The Reading Teacher, 39, 564-570. http://dx.doi.org/10.1598/RT.39.6.11

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practices. Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-66363-2.

Wenger, E. (2010). Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice (pp. 179-198). Springer London. 

Wenger, E. (2011). Communities of practice: a brief introduction. In STEP Leadership Workshop, University of Oregon, 2011. https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/handle/1794/11736

West, R. E. & Williams, G. (2018). I don’t think that word means what you think it means: A proposed framework for defining learning communities. Educational Technology Research and Development. Available online at https://edtechbooks.org/lidtfoundations/learning_communities

From Community of Practices to Learning communities and networks online