Exploring Learning Communities

Do you think that our case study subjects are involved in communities of practice? This comment from Karen suggests that she, at least, may have found one while she was studying:

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Transcript: Karen (her own words are spoken by an actress)

There’s lots and lots of support. There is support on the computer. There’s always someone at the end of the telephone if you are having a problem. There’s your fellow students. There’s lots and lots of support there, and there is always someone there to help you through it…

End transcript: Karen (her own words are spoken by an actress)
Karen (her own words are spoken by an actress)
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Activity 3.14: Identifying Learning Communities

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes for this activity

This is a required activity for Challenge 3: The Theory Challenge.

This quiz about communities of practice [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   will help you to develop your understanding of the ways in which communities of practice work. Once again, it features an animated film featuring Tina and her friends.

You should return to this section of Unit 3 when you have completed the quiz.


In the animated film, you saw professional photographer and ill-tempered diner Eric recalling how he learned about photography and made this his career. Clearly the photography club has been a major influence on his learning throughout his adult life. However, it’s likely that other groups of people, and other individuals, have had an impact on his learning. These people may include his work colleagues at the newspaper and other professional photographers with whom he has come into contact over the years. Each of these groups of people could be functioning as a community of practice.

The next activity is a good opportunity to reflect on how the groups in your own life influence your learning and studying. By doing this, you are also evaluating the relevance and usefulness of communities of practice as a theory.

Activity 3.15: Your Groups—Are They Communities of Practice?

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes for this activity.

Lave and Wenger suggest that being a member of a group is a key part of learning in general. Such membership might also be important for your study in Learning to Learn. Have you told people that you have started this course? Have you tried to involve them as a result of doing some of the activities? If you have, think about their responses. Were they positive or were they indifferent? The people might even have made negative comments about your studies.

Use a table such as that shown in Figure 3.10. In the first column, list the groups to which you belong. In the second column, comment on how these groups support your learning. For example, you might say that your family members have done household chores to give you time to work on Learning to Learn. If they do not know you are studying, you could put in what you imagine their reaction would be. In the third column, make some notes about whether the groups seem to have any of the three features of a community of practice. For example, you might note that your family members know about three or four easy-to-cook meals that they can produce when you are not able to cook for them.

Figure 3.10 Communities of practice, or not
Figure 3.10 Communities of practice, or not


This activity might have made you realize (or, possibly, realize again) that friends and family can have a big impact on you. They may already have had an impact on how you see yourself as a learner. This can have an ongoing effect on any subsequent study and on any plans for change. It might even affect how you view this course. This is fine if you feel supported by the groups to which you belong. But what if you feel that none of these groups is on your side? Well, we hope that you see Learning to Learn as a support that helps build your confidence and belief in yourself. By taking this course, you not only have the course materials, but access to the forum to share your thoughts with other learners. There is likely to be a range of community groups and associations if you want to develop a particular interest.

The other result of the last activity is to give you a clearer idea about communities of practice and to make you think about the extent to which this concept applies to you at the moment. By seeing how it might apply, you are exploring its relevance and usefulness. Even if you decided that few or none of your current groups have features of communities of practice, you will have given yourself the chance to see how these key features may be applied. More About Learning Communities A “Health Warning” About Groups