Defining Learning Communities

Year: 2003

Author: Kilpatrick, Sue, Barrett, Margaret, Jones, Tammy

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The beginning of the twenty-first century heralds a shift in emphasis from learning with the focus on the individual to learning as part of a community. The concept of "learning communities" is currently one that is to the fore of much educational and organisational literature and discussion. In the literature, however, the term "learning communities" is being defined and used in diverse and flexible ways. As well as learning communities that are geographically defined, there has been growth in accessing learning through participation in "communities of common purpose". Information and communication technologies have facilitated the emergence and rapid growth of learning communities whose members interact from remote corners of the globe to form online learning communities.

This paper explores the ways in which learning communities are defined, and the commonalities, blurred boundaries and close associations that are apparent between learning communities and other contemporary areas of interest, such as lifelong learning, social capital, communities of practice and distributed cognition. The Faculty of Education at the University of Tasmania has acknowledged the potential that learning communities offer for the new century, and the benefits that can flow from an improved understanding of the concept, by adopting learning communities as the key metaphor of its research. It is apparent that learning communities can be a powerful means of creating and sharing new knowledge.