Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Learning Networks and Communities of Practice

Picture taken from www.socialserviceinstitute.sg

If we go back a few entries, we shall remember that part of the digital competencies expected from teachers of the new era include collaborative learning and sharing of knowledge. Teachers are expected to be learners and producers of knowledge, constantly engaged with educational experimentation and innovation. This, of course, shall be achieved by working collaboratively with their colleagues and outside experts. Hence, this leads to the fact that teachers must be literate in the use of a variety of digital resources, networked devices to create and support a community of knowledge and collaborative learning.

This social learning system includes what are called Communities of Practice (CoPs). These are groups of people who share an interest or a passion about a particular topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise by regularly interacting. Of course, more than just sharing an interest, communities of practice are focused on a domain of knowledge and, more than just sharing interests, their goal is to develop their shared practice by dealing in community with problems, solutions, and building a common store of knowledge.

For developing professionally, educators nowadays can build their own Personal or Professional Learning Network (PLN), a system of interpersonal connections that foster and support informal learning. Two types of systems can be used as PLNs:

  • ·         Information aggregation systems: used to collect and organize information regarding a topic from various resources. It helps users to stay up-to-date on theories, practices and news in the field. Among this type of systems we have the RSS reader and Social Bookmarking tools such as Diigo. The first collects information from various websites and allows educators to skim through hundreds of pages, web sites, wikis and articles in order to find the most relevant information. The second, allows users to highlight, tag and organize relevant web pages, and by joining a group you receive shared bookmarks from all members in the group regularly.

  • ·         Social media connections: provide users with a space to connect with a global audience. Apart from popular social media tools such as Facebook or Twitter, there are also interest-based groups, such as GoogleGroups or Ning. In other words, these can be any online place where you can connect with other individuals: websites, discussion forums, social networking sites and so on.

In general, literature highlights many reasons why educators should use PLNs, and some of them are the following:

·         They help people learn from each other in a communal way. Educator can use them to ask for help, feedback and ideas.

·         They’re more flexible and personalized than conventional place-based conventional education.

·         They can be accessed any time and anywhere.

·         Instead of waiting for scheduled workshops, educators can ask for help through their PLNs and get immediate responses.

But not only educators find PLNs advantageous, but they’ve also proven to be useful for learners in many areas of expertise:

·         Many students are part of PLNs to learn skills that they’re not taught in their schools, such as photography, graphic design, even foreign languages.

·         They learn by participating in discussion forums, sharing their work and receiving feedback as part of collective knowledge building group.

If you have further interest in the concept of Communities of Practice, I recommend you to read this article written by Etienne Wenger, the author who is believed to have coined this concept: Communities  of  Practice  and  Social  Learning  Systems:  the  Career  of  a  Concept. http://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/09-10-27-CoPs-and-systems-v2.0.pdf

I also recommend you this article if you’re interested in helping your students to create a PLN: Helping Students Develop a Personal Learning Network, written by Katie Becker, gives some tips to help your students, particularly young learners, to create and maintain a PLN. http://www.pearsonschoolsystems.com/blog/?p=2050#sthash.AaCaiHkL.dpbs

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