What are learning communities? How do learning communities affect learner engagement? Is there a difference between learning communities and learning networks? What value might be found in a learning community? Learning communities may be closed to a few or open to many or everyone. We will discuss both closed and open communities in similar ways as the focus of the discussion is on the nature of learning by connecting with others. These and other questions and points are discussed in this and similar posts. Your comments and contributions to the overall discussion are welcomed!
Learning communities consist of a number of people with common interests and desire to learn and share with others. This happens in face-to-face environments, of course, but in this discussion we will primarily consider online learning communities. In an environment where one can be connected to others so readily via technology it is relatively easy to connect with others who have interests similar to yours. The connections may be informal in nature or more formal or professional. What is gained from a connection to a group of learners may be simply result from curiosity about a topic, fulfilling a need for more information about a hobby or activity one is involved in, gaining knowledge and understanding in relation to furthering one’s education, expanding capacity professionally, and more. Members of a learning community may include people from the general public who just wish to follow the topic at hand, people who wish to learn from others in order to help them improve their efforts regarding the topic, students participating in a class effort, professionals who wish to improve their abilities through learning or networking with others, all of these together and more.
Connecting with a learning community can vary from simply anonymously exploring topics of interest and seeing what others are sharing online, to registering with a group to establish a continual connection to what is shared via the community, participating in discussions or sharing something of your own, actually starting or leading a group of learners, and much more. Online learning communities generally focus on a primary topic of interest with discussions that may branch off into related topics. A connection to a learning community may also be thought of as a connection to a network as one’s involvement readily leads to connections with others. Personal learning networks result which can become a rich environment for the learner as they learn and share with others. A broader learning network may reach beyond the circle of more personal connections to a larger community or network of learners. The body of knowledge on the topic at hand becomes greatly enhanced as a result in that members of the community and network are contributing to and even creating new knowledge as perspectives and experiences are shared.
For any given individual connecting online to learning communities or networks, much benefit can be gained in regard to their personal interests and needs including enhancing themselves in a professional manner. One’s personal learning network may have a variety of connections that range from personal hobby type interests to professional through professional learning networks.
The informal manner in which people connect and learn with others is not necessarily a new thing but with technology it can be greatly enhanced. Beginning at a young age and continuing into our adult lives, connecting to online learning communities and networks is becoming more and more a significant part of lifelong learning.