For topic 3, we were asked to reflect upon the formation of learning communities and communities of practice including in online settings. In our group and panel discussion (recorded), we talked a lot about the 5-stage model for online learning proposed by Gilly Salmon, The Five Stage Model (2022) and reflected on how, the development between the different stages ranging from access and motivation to “development” in online learning (for it to be successful) is not necessarily a linear process although the model indicates that these are stages that one goes through in a progressive manner.

Another topic that was raised has to do with the notion of learning as a social practice and the importance of the notion of community, a concept that, at times in Salmon and later in Wenger’s text, is taken for granted.

In the next few part I would like to pick up on a few ideas about learning as a community practice (from Wenger’s text: Wenger, E. (2010). Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept) and expand on these two by linking them to Paulo Freire’s foundational pedagogical text on The Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Wenger’s idea of learning as a community practice is based on a relational understanding of pedagogy; meaning making processes are understood in terms of individuals/identities in interaction with community and the world at large.

One of the points that deserves further reflection is the consideration of community as a concept: in W’s theory at times seems as if “community” is inherently horizontal and productive or positive. Is there here perhaps a an underlying assumption here that communities work on a horizontal basis or are homogeneous and a problem with not attending to the structures of hierarchy and power that determine relationalities of learning as a social practice whether it is class race gender etc.? The author in fact acknowledges this point toward the end of the article so it is a relevant point to expand on.

One way of expanding on the social theory of learning and communities of practice and education in this context might be to go back to one of the foundational texts by Paulo Freire The Pedagogy of the Oppressed from 1968.

Like Wenger’s, Freire’s notion of learning is based upon communal/collective practice and it deeply relational: “It is a perspective that locates learning, not in the head or outside it, but in the relationship between the person and the world”

But at the center of Freire’s is also a materialist review of relations of domination in learning contexts with the ultimate purpose “to be more fully human” via social change.

In this scenario, a horizontal notion of a learning community is not a given but is necessarily entangled with acts of domination”.

Within institutions and without (societal, on a more general level), there are processes of dehumanization: The logic of the oppressor, whether it manifests itself directly in the classroom, in text books, or outside the classroom (the state or the corporate world) desires to “transform everything surrounding it into an object of its domination”. This need to objectify humans is driven by the authority’s belief that “Humanity is a thing, and they possess it as an exclusive right”

In a learning context, for the community, the power dynamic between teacher and learner is key: “learning as a joint venture instead of having a vertical structure”; learning not as transfer of knowledge but as co-creation of knowledge where the student is seen as an active subject of the process and not as passive objects.

For silent learners and for students lacking resources (background), this process of subjectivization is particularly hard. Here are some hands on strategies:

  1. Spontaneity: reading the classroom and the sensing the vibe are significant although difficult especially in online settings. Slowing down when is at times necessary, and more important than covering everything that is in the curriculum. Daring to change things on the spot, unplanned.
  2. Taking a problem posing approach rather than a vertical listening/transference of knowledge model; and creating a brave space.
  3. Working with conscientization: a critical pedagogical method, teaching to “negotiate the world in a thoughtful way that exposes and engages the relations between the oppressor and the oppressed.” Enabling students to pose questions themselves to evaluate and reflect on their own positions (their privileges as well as disadvantages).

Perhaps these ideas about community building in teaching are too idealistic at a time when universities are increasingly seen by many students as career centers?

Topic 3: Learning Communities and Communities in Practice