Learning communities are widely recognized by academic institutions as a powerful medium of learning. Literatures support the principle that interaction of members in the learning community plays an important factor in influencing the quality of enhanced learning outcomes. Each stakeholder in a learning community is encouraged to become proactively engaged in sharing ideas and active interactions in order to build constructive knowledge through their collaborative effort and participation in the process of identifying problems and addressing them with appropriate solutions. While different definitions are provided in literatures about learning communities, there are undoubtedly similar concepts that are invoked in each which is directed in the collaborative efforts of building knowledge instead of individual learning of each community member. This paper will discuss the various insightful foundations on the concept of learning communities, the stakeholders involved and how they benefit towards a quality learning outcome and any identified issues and limitations on learning communities.
A learning community provides a cultural setting where every member takes an important role as an active learner and each member helps one another in developing their knowledge about subjects of their mutual interests. A learning community fosters an environment where each member contributes something to the productive learning of all community members. The process involved in a learning community is one that is collaborative and dynamically engaging where the teachers, students, staff, principal, and parents are involved towards the attainment of improved and nourishing learning experiences (Roberts & Pruitt, 2003).
According to Bielaczyc and Collins (n.d.), there are three concepts why educators find the need to implement the learning community approach in education. The first is based on the Social Constructivist argument that views learning as more productive through a knowledge-construction process that is reinforced and supported by one’s surrounding community. The learning process involved in the argument is that students should apply constructive knowledge by social interaction and experience instead of forced information being introduced to them.
The second view is the Learning to Learn argument which emphasizes learning to be more efficient when one mingles with the people whom he admires in order to develop his ability to become an intelligent learner. Here, the learning process that one needs is not completely limited in school settings only but based on the interaction with others who have shared knowledge and expertise in a particular area of interest. The third view is the Multicultural argument which emphasizes the growing complexity of learning owing to the evolution of technology and diversified community which requires an individual to be exposed to different people with various backgrounds in order to enrich his knowledge and learning. The introduction of learning communities thus offers an opportunity for students to learn more about complex issues and to become more competent in dealing with them.
Being exposed to a learning community provides each member or stakeholder an effective medium where they could develop their learning process and broaden their knowledge on matters of mutual interests among the other members of the community. Each member is able to share his own insights and point of view while learning together from each other. There are important stakeholders in a learning community that include the teachers, principal, students, staff, parents, and the school community at large. Educational institutions adopt their own special learning communities that will provide their members with a special learning environment that will promote intellectual growth and learning. The development of a learning community is also based on the social interpretation doctrine which emphasizes the need for interpreting social conditions in the community that brings awareness on the needs of the community and to obtain factual information where people are informed of the existing condition, value, and needs of educational programs which are done through two-way interaction and communication between the school and its community members (Moore, Bagin, & Gallagher, 2012).
A professional learning community for instance provides for a learning setting among teachers, staff and administrators that aims to cultivate improvements in the teaching and learning outcomes among the students and the entire school community. Stoll and Louis (2007) refer to a professional learning community as an environment that fosters a learning ground for professionals to learn how they could enhance student learning outcomes. While the stakeholders involved in this type of learning community are professionals, they each benefit from each other’s own insights and ideas to strengthen their ability to improve student learnings. While they learn together as professionals within their own level, the benefit of their learning in effect also extends to benefit the students and the school community in general. As important stakeholders, these professionals are able to benefit from this type of learning community as they learn how to depart from the traditional learning system and reinvent education practice beyond the realms of the school buildings. The professional learning community they build also help them to be consistent in enhancing their expertise and to further develop their professional virtues (Sergiovanni, 1994).
Online learning is another form of a learning community which is found to be highly relevant and beneficial in enhancing student learning outcomes. Online learning community is supported by the social constructivist view where a constructive form of knowledge is encouraged which is unique to an individual through his ability to make meanings instead of transmitting knowledge, to engage in a dialogue instead of being passive and learning through social situations. Students are the key players in the learning community where they benefit from their interaction with others online, giving them the opportunity to exchange intellectual discourse, share insights and experiences, obtain emotional and intellectual support from others and to brainstorm in finding solutions to specific challenges (Rogers, 2009). Their learning is not one consisting of orders but rather one of honing their skills to become more independent in exploring their learning abilities through exchange of ideas and sharing of experiences with people from diversified background.
Students, as important stakeholders in a learning community, are able to expand their opportunities for learning better and in addressing more complex issues and problems. While learning communities offer a similar approach as those employed in classrooms, it involves different activities with resulting different outcomes. Learning communities with a virtual approach for instance involve activities that allow students and even faculty members to socially interact with the different members of the virtual learning community to develop a collaborative and cooperative learning setting outside the four corners of a classroom. It eventually forms a learning system where the objective of learning from each other is well articulated (Reigeluth, 1999) through shared experiences.
An important concept of learning communities is described as one that promotes the values of collaborating efforts and communications among the stakeholders like the faculty members, administrator, staff, students, parents and all other members who come in contact with the school towards the nourishment of their learning experiences through a sense of shared leadership. With all the stakeholders actively participating in sharing their knowledge and ideas, the process enhances the community members’ ability to find solutions to challenging issues that affect the school community in general. Parents for instance are engaged in an open dialogue with the faculty and administration, contributing insights on how to further enhance their children’s learning process and how to improve the school community at large. A collaborative and cooperative process is thus formed among all stakeholders who share the common goal of attaining a quality learning outcome for every member.
The roles of teachers in a learning community are different from a classroom teacher. The former is involved in facilitating student-directed activities while the latter is more engaged in directing student activities. In learning communities, students are able to benefit from the process of learning where they are more responsible in monitoring their own learning knowledge and progress and likewise in assessing the progress of the other members within the community. Thus, in a learning community, a shared leadership role is encouraged where each member takes an important role in contributing to each member’s learning process. Resources utilized in the learning community view the collective knowledge shared by each member to one another as an important source of learning.
With the exchange of views and shared ideas of all members, knowledge becomes constructive and members negotiate among themselves while learning to articulate processes, plans, and goals in contrast to the learning language used in classrooms where the book texts dictate what the students should learn. Because of the shared ideas being encouraged in a learning community, each member is able to exchange diversified ideas, skills, and expertise with one another. There are learning communities that adopt the model of a Knowledge-Building classroom which fosters a learning outcome, one that is aimed at knowledge building instead of knowledge reproduction. Through knowledge building, the students’ learning outcomes involve the development of an understanding based on research, community discourse, and problem identification. What is emphasized in this form of learning community is the development of the collective goals of understanding where the students are treated as part of the source of the knowledge-building community instead of merely as learners (Moen, Morch & Paavola, 2012).
As the education system continues to evolve and each stakeholder of the learning communities is engaged actively in participating to the attainment of developing collective knowledge to improve learning outcomes, there are some issues that are involved in this process. One is the effect of over socialization when students and teachers become more engaged in their social interaction with one another through the social media platforms, often disrupting their learning process and the relationships become focused on more personal rather than educational interaction. Because of the exposure of each member with one another, each coming from diversified background, personality conflict tends to arise in a learning community as well. The success rate of each type of learning community that is adopted in colleges and universities also depends upon organizational support. The quality of leadership among each member will also influence the quality of their learning outcomes.
Another limitation with regards to the effectiveness of establishing a learning community is the degree of interactions required for each mode of learning discipline utilized in the learning community. Some may require community meetings once a month, twice a week or weekly classes which may affect the learning exposure involved by each member and the potency of building knowledge that is cultivated along the process. The frequency of community meetings also affects the degree of organizational support received by each type of learning community. Another recognized limitation and issue involved in the adoption of a learning community is when the student data and knowledge are mainly used as a source of information in the learning process, the emphasis shifts into changing students instead of changing the quality of the teaching process. Thus, teachers should take a more responsive role of interpreting the student data shared by members in order to improve the teaching and learning outcomes as well. In order to address this issue, teachers are encouraged to align the student learning within the community with the school curriculum and instruction standards in order to guide the student learning outcomes (Foord & Haar, 2008).
Moreover, learning community members engaged in the virtual learning process need to explore better opportunities in strengthening their relationship and to develop a sense of affiliation to one another. Individual interaction and shared vision towards a more potent learning should be the foundation in the attainment of a successful learning community. The capacity of the growth of the learning community will always depend on the continuous interest of each member to sustain an engaging and more interactive learning process. Thus, a learning community only becomes effective if the community is able to sustain the interest of each member to participate in the exchange of shared ideas and knowledge. It would then be sufficing to say that a learning community is a new approach to the learning process which is founded on the collective knowledge shared by the stakeholders in order to foster a better learning outcome. It is not based on individual learning but one that involves sharing of ideas and the interaction and affinity development among the members of the learning community. Each stakeholder thus plays the role of shared leadership in order to build a learning community that is focused on a common goal to attain.
Online educators, teachers, students, and the administration need to show collaborative efforts in order to deliver a quality learning process among themselves that will not only benefit them but also the community in general. Building relationships and building knowledge shape the integral foundation of learning communities where each stakeholder is viewed as the source of knowledge and not merely as learners. Educational institutions are taking more advancements in utilizing learning communities in building knowledge with considerable literature that support the effectiveness of enhancing the learning process through connectedness, collaboration, shared knowledge, and exchange of ideas among the members of the community. The members’ interaction with one another enhances the learning community outcome which is a learning process that calls for shared leadership roles among the stakeholders. Fostering learning communities encourage students, faculty members, and administrators in sharing learning experiences that are more powerful and effective in enhancing learning outcomes by spending a substantial amount of time brainstorming and engaging in productive intellectual activities that are founded on building knowledge collectively. This becomes highly beneficial to all its stakeholders and the academic community in general.
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Moen, A., Morch, A.I. and Paavola, S, (2012). Collaborative Knowledge Creation: Practices, Tools, Concepts. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
Moore, E.H., Bagin, D., and Gallagher, D.R. (2012). The School and Community Relations. Boston, New York: Pearson.
Reigeluth, C.M. (1999). Instructional – Design Theories and Models. A New Paradigm of Instructional Theory. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Roberts, S.M. and Pruitt, E.Z. (2003). Schools as Professional Learning Communities. Collaborative Activities and Strategies for Professional Development. New Delhi, India: Sage Publications.
Rogers, P. (2009). Encyclopedia for Distance Learning. London, UK: Idea Group Ltd.
Sergiovanni, T.J. (1994). Building Community in Schools. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass Publisher.
Stoll, L. S. and Louis, K.S. (2007). Professional Learning Communities: Divergence, Depths and Dilemmas. Boston, New York: Open University Press.