Musings: Defining a learning community (March#5)

What prompted these musings? Well this is actually an excerpt from a uni assigment. While the assignments might disappear from this site eventually, the blog will remain so I would like to share my thoughts on the topic of coming to a definition for a learning community.

My view:

A learning community is a group with a shared interest who have acted upon a desire to learn more and help others learn more. They interact collaboratively through different learning activities to share information, resources and ideas around their topic in order to facilitate group and individual learning.

A true learning community is representative of unselfish, collective learning as opposed to individual, secretive learning. There is no single ‘teacher’ but instead the members contribute to the learning of the community. The knowledge is not hidden, but shared, creating a knowledge base for the community to build upon.

This supportive environment, combined with the group’s social interaction, creates a strong sense of ownership and commitment to learning in the community.

How I came to this viewpoint:

After exploring discussions and opinions of classmates, it was clear a community is a group with something (geography, interests) in common. Wikipedia explains that when the group actively interacts around their commonality, learning from each, the community becomes a learning community.

Is this sufficient to explain the nature of a learning community? I decided to explore thinking on this matter chronologically to determine how this definition in Wikipedia had been arrived at.

Some of the early definitions of a learning community focus on structure as a key element. Gabelnick et al (1990) explains that thematically structuring the curriculum creates greater coherence and increased intellectual interaction compared to individual focused learning. This is a turning point where it is determined that to create this more intellectually stimulating environment, there must be a shared space where subject matter is integrated with social interactions. This definition is broadened by Smith (1993) who points out that learning communities involve change not just in structure but in process and the way people experience the learning process.

Matthews et al (1996) starts to move more towards the idea that community is not just for facilitating academic discussion, but from a social perspective participation in a learning community helps students feel comfortable, make friends, and develop a support network.

Roth and Lee (2006) theorize that learning communities are motivated by a desire to contribute to society. This viewpoint is supported by Gannon-Leary and Fountainha (2007) who explain that resource sharing not only improves participants’ knowledge but adds to the domain’s knowledge base.

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