Professional Learning Communities versus Personal Learning Networks

Interesting post here on Professional Learning Communities versus Personal Learning Networks by Lorraine.

Choice and options are important in networked learning as shared in my post

There are differences between Professional Learning Communities and Personal Learning Networks. Professional Learning Communities are more aligned with the FORMAL COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE, and there may be mandates as to how it would be sponsored, organised, and coordinated, with definite role definitions for community managers (principal, head teachers, counselors etc.) and other community members.  Those are rules based COP with definite outcomes, and sometimes could be running under a committee structure.

The PLN are more aligned with the Social Network approach where learning is emergent and thus would allow for more personal autonomy.  Previous researches (from our CCK researches) have revealed those observations by Timothy and many other networkers, in their various manifestations of blog postings and forum discussions.

These tensions always relate back to the choice, power and decisions, often associated with communities and networks.  The group versus networks discussion throughout the CCKs would be relevant here.


#Change11 #CCK12 What does an online community mean to you?

The post on online community attracted my attention. Mark says in his blog:

“We would like to think of technology as providing a ‘virtual community’, but I think this is mistaken not just because what is created online is not strictly a ‘community’, but it is also mistaken because the picture that is adopted of technology is one which always assumes that individual experience of face-to-face can be replaced by online experience. It can’t. They are fundamentally different entities.”

Is what is created online strictly a community?  My view is it depends on what one defines as a community, and the expectations from that of the community.  I would argue that the community that is thus created online could be part of the community of individuals, where each person may be morphing along both virtual and face-to-face community at times.

To what extent is a virtual community really blurring the boundary of the online and real-life community?  I do think technology has opened up the windows of opportunity of community – with Facebook (ConnectivismEducationLearning) and Change11, Twitter (Change11), Google + and Blogosphere (here on Change11 and here on MOOC).

Photo: Google Image

So networkers may be identifying themselves as a community member in certain virtual networks or “communities” but then such online community may have boundaries and protocols whereby only members may have to “comply” with, in order that membership be sustained.

I reckon many people has adopted the definition of community of practice as:

“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” Wenger, 2005.

There are certain differences in face-to-face community (school and institutions as community) and the online community such as MOOC as shared here.

“I have been thinking long about those three criteria that you mentioned: mutual engagement, a joint enterprise, and a shared repertoire. Based on what I have experienced in MOOC, the COPs evolved over virtual space during and after MOOC do exhibit those criteria within small clusters of COPs where some of the participants were situated. Relating to the learning, meaning, and identity of the members of COP, this is where the landscape of practice – a digital and virtual space where the members visited or resided upon. That’s why I would suggest to reformulate the criteria that are typically used in COP. This would reflect more fully the new and emerging structure of MOOC (as a conglomeration of COPs and Networks) that is evolving, emerging and morphing along the digital landscape, not being bounded by the conventional structures. In other words, the unstructure becomes the structure, and uncourse becomes the course, and finally the unCOPs become the COPs. This is happening in lots of COPs too, where the lifespan of physical COPs are transforming into a blend of COPs, all re-defining the meaning of learning, meaning and identity in new and emerging ways. I would need to restudy the research findings (our CCKs, PLENK2010, and other study) to substantiate such claims. The latest study by Wenger et al could also be used to study such patterns.

I also found that many physical COPs were rather short-lived, and the purposes were ill-defined, with a lot of membership fading at a rapid rate. On the other hand, there have been many successful COPs which continued to grow and develop, but they were likely the ones that could “transform” themselves into new ways of functioning, rather than sticking to the three criteria only.”

I have also elaborated on the community education in MOOC here.

Stephen in his post on knowledge, learning and community says:

“A community relates to its constituent members in several ways. In is the environment within which a person experiences, practices and learns. It is therefore a mechanism whereby the experiences of one person may be replicated by another, through immersion in the same environment.”

In reflection, MOOC could be the ideal new learning platform which would host such a virtual community of learners around the world.  This is also the start of their research initiative on online teaching and learning, where we once have undergone in our past MOOCs, and is undertaking in this Change11 MOOC.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to see such pattern of massive online course design, delivery with teaching and learning is now being replicated and amplified in Stanford University and MIT initiatives?

I would speculate that their research would tend to go with the scaling up based on automated assessment (grading by computer) and a shift towards more personalisation of learning once communities and networks of learners are built and formed, as more learners would interact with each others, thus forming clusters, groups, collectives, and networks around their focus of interests of study, and beyond, like the MOOC.

Are MOOCs (such as CCK08, CCK09, PLENK2010, Change11, CCK11, LAK12) communities or networks for you?  To what extent do you find them a COP?

What does an online community mean to you?

Can individual experience of face-to-face be replaced by online experience?  Why?/Why not?

Postscript: Useful reference on COP – Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept by Etienne Wenger

CCK11 Research into Connectivism, MOOC and PLENK

Here is my previous  post on What is needed for research?

“Connectivism can draw much from research in related fields such as neuroscience for understanding biological basis of learning, AI for how neural networks function, sociology for external connections, psychology for conceptual formations, systems thinking for understanding how the entire system of education relates”

Thanks George for your insights. I agree.  approve

There are both opportunities and challenges:

Opportunities: smile

  1. Reinforce the theory of connectivism – especially a deeper understanding of the concepts and principles governing connectivism.
  2. Inform authorities and stakeholders (i.e. higher education in particular) of the theoretical framework of “emergent” connectivism
  3. Introduction of psychology for conceptual framework and connections would provide a leverage to connections, and a framework in understanding the dynamics of both strong and weak ties (at all three levels – neural, conceptual, external/social).

Challenges:wide eyes

  1. Some critics viewed connectivism as a blend of different theories – including behaviourism, cognitivism, constructivism, social constructivism, complex and chaos theories, constructionism,..and are similar in certain ways to Actor Network Theories (ANT).   How would such research be “integrated” given that each theory proponents have their own views on those theories?  Extending those theories into connectivism would need to be considered under specific context.  Will the findings be inconclusive?  And I am not too sure when it comes a “virtual world” whereas some research findings may not be reflective of reality (will provide evidence based on url in coming threads).  How would one overcome that?
  2. Which is more important in research?  Applied connectivism? Empirical research?  Cross discipline research?
  3. Will any of the researches be funded?
  4. Given that such researches may be based on individual initiatives (such as a PhD thesis), competition (in funding) rather than collaboration may arise.
  5. If the researchers are to form networks, will copy right (or plagiarism) be an issue?  How original will such researches be?
  6. How will peer review be coordinated?  Is it through institutions or networks?  How will credentials be achieved?
  7. It’s difficult for novice to weave through the different theories, and any research on those other areas create conflicting views in connectivism (which may turn up to be a good idea).

I think getting research done in those areas is not too difficult, as there are already many PhD candidates doing research in this connectivism area.  Getting coordinated results and collaborations amongst researchers would be the most difficult part of it.  A “network” or “community of practice” approach would likely yield better result.  But would it be easy to coordinate such efforts?  Networking amongst researchers is never an easy task – note the ”autonomy of scholars” and “islands of researches” that has happened in the past.thoughtful

Even by now, only you and Stephen are the main pioneers in this area, would we need more people to join?  But again, this will add complications to the theory, as it is evidenced in this course, towards a learner centred approach, and as an emergent learning theory.

I am still learning…blush

Your comments please.

An update on the research into MOOC:

MOOC paper (27 Dec 10)


Here is post – Learning on MOOC by Rita.

Rita highlights the findings:

  1. Power relations on the MOOC
  2. Confidence levels of novice MOOCers
  3. The level of presence of participants and facilitators
  4. The willingness to help by all involved.

I have also briefly shared my observation and discussion here.

  1. Time and information management
  2. Connections
  3. Personal learning and critical literacies
  4. Power and influence

Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past? by Rita Kop and Adrian Hill

Network theories for technology-enabled learning and social change: Connectivism and Actor Network theory by Frances Bell

The networked student model for construction of personal learning environments: Balancing teacher control and student autonomy by Wendy Drexler

I have yet to digest the above researches completed, and how they relate to the findings on the Design and delivery of MOOC – PLENK that I am still working on.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to:

Stephen Downes

Dave Cormier, Bonnie Stewart, George Siemens, and Sandy McAuley

Rita Kop, Hélène Fournier

Frances Bell

Roy Williams, Jenny Mackness

Wendy Drexler

and many other researchers

for their sharing of various research findings.  This would greatly help in consolidating the research into MOOC and PLENK.

I will likely take some more time in the analysis of results before I could publish. Will keep you posted on the progress.

My Reflection:

Would integration of such findings in MOOC, PLENK be the greatest challenge?

Here is a challenge on Connectivism with wiki post.  What could be concluded from such a debate?

What are the merits and demerits in applying a Contemporary Theory of Learning in this digital age?

Is the new learning model replacing the old learning models?  What are the pros and cons with each model of learning?

What makes a valuable learning theory?

Would Connectivism be the Learning Theory of the Present or the Future? Why? Why not?

Or may be a New Learning Theory that could embrace the learning of both digital and non-digital citizen.

Postscript: Useful resource PhD thesis by Andres Meiszner:

Photo: source unknown