TEL Communities

Helen Caldwell and Anna Cox | View as single page | Feedback/Impact
TEL Communities
Definitions: Theoretical background relevant to technology facilitated social learning
Research evidence: Systematic literature reviews on the theme of technology facilitated social learning

Summary and themes to take further


This is the column which attempts to take you to where the magic happens.  There are a large number of practice examples and to summarise them would be to reduce their power to influence. What can be summarised from this column is that technology can be used to support social learning in diverse contexts and for diverse purposes.  The range of ‘teachers’ whose experience is captured here is great and the range of ‘learners’ also. Perhaps most interesting of all is the fluidity of positions taken as a learner and a teacher in a community of practice in which strong commitment to effective blended and online learning happens.  That is for us where the magic happens.

We have have looked at ways in which some technologies can work together to facilitate social learning. Some of these include:

  • Blogs and communities working together for education students thinking about theory and practice

  • Moocs combining online spaces: Wordpress or Blackboard Open Education with a Google + community providing a place for content and a place for shared reflections and shared understandings to evolve into ideas for classroom practice

  • The importance of visual postings for teachers to be able to immediately grasp ideas and adapt them to their own contexts

 We have also looked at the nature of interactions within an online community and recognised that it is a complex mix of browsing, commenting and reflecting that leads to transfer to practice. We agree with Smith et al. that there is an interplay of participation and reification (2017), and we would suggest that the sharing of artifacts can be a prompt for reflection and action. The exchange of artifacts or collaboration to produce a joint artefact can also be an integral part of the interactions.

We conclude that, at its best, blended and online learning is social, peer to peer, technologically enhanced, synchronous and asynchronous, expansive and innovative. We recommend that authors and facilitators of online learning:

  • repurpose time and restructure delivery methods using technology in favour of collaborative, active learning

  • use online tools such as communities, blogs, forums and collaborative documents to create an online classroom where interactions occur rather than just a static website

  • increase the availability of content in different media so that students have choice over their learning pathways facilitating self-directed learning

  • increase student collaboration so that they look to each other for feedback rather than just their tutors and understand the value of belonging to a supportive community of practice

  • increase student control over time, pace, place and learning path, blurring the boundaries between formal and informal learning

  • aim for an interplay of digital making, reflection, and interaction based on student-generated content  

Themes to take further   

Whilst our hybrid MOOCs functioned with strong elements of communities of practice and behaviours similar to that of a hive and it was clear that the roles created shifted between individuals who took part, we have no idea of the behaviours of the “lurkers”. Lave and Wenger (1991) proposed that observation from the boundary, ‘lurking’ or more formally, legitimate peripheral participation is a valid form of participation in the online learning community. How many of these took something from the MOOC and were able to transfer skills into classroom practice. One might assume that the real knowledge was gained through reading and observing the interactions of the other participants online rather than just taking an e-tivity and completing it in isolation. For future MOOCs it would be interesting to explore how such online learning impacted on this type of learner.

The hybrid MOOC does not provide for authentic assessment of learning within the tasks apart from the peer assessment and encouragement by moderators. Is this enough for participants?

Other social learning themes to explore further include peer support and encouragement within CoPs; different levels of involvement; reflection on transfer to practice; the process of building, growing and developing communities of practice; further analysis of how online conversations develop understanding; and examination of the process of collective knowledge-building in online environments.


Smith, S.U., Hayes, S. and Shea, P., 2017. A critical review of the use of Wenger's Community of Practice (CoP) theoretical framework in online and blended learning research, 2000-2014. Online Learning, 21(1).