TEL Communities

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TEL Communities
Definitions: Theoretical background relevant to technology facilitated social learning
Research evidence: Systematic literature reviews on the theme of technology facilitated social learning

Communities of Practice and social learning

Learning through modeling imageBandura's social learning theory is based on the idea that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. Attention, memory, reproduction and motivation are necessary conditions for learning through modeling. This theory links cognitivist and behavioural theories by focusing on the reciprocal interaction between cognition, behaviour and environment. Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory and Lave’s Situated Learning also emphasise the social aspects of learning. A key idea from Vygotsky in relation to this MESH guide is that higher order thinking stems from the use of tools such as talk and writing to mediate our social environments and internalise ideas. The role of the teacher is to facilitate this meaning construction.

CoPs provide a way of exploring the complexity and dynamics of social learning and of collective knowledge building as a means of participating in the community, improving both the personal knowledge of the participants and their knowledge within the domain (Lave and Wenger, 1991). Advocates of using a CoP approach to learning take the view that application of knowledge to innovate and generate new ideas is more valuable than just knowledge generation (Wick, 2000).

According to Lave and Wenger’s definition, ‘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, 2011, p.1). Other definitions place a similar emphasis on the sharing and applying knowledge to their practice, viewing CoPs as ‘individuals united in action’ (Liedka, 1999, p5) or as groups with similar aims purposefully solving authentic problems (Wick, 2000; Johnson, 2001). This real world context is a hallmark of situated learning and many argue that applying previous knowledge to real situations and building upon previous understandings through interactions better prepares learners for their future practice (Coppola, 1999).

Read more about dialogic learning here: Dialogue, conversation and praxis and here Dialogue and conversation for learning, education and change


Bandura, A. (1977) Social Learning Theory, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Coppola, N. (1999). Setting the discourse community: tasks and assessment for the new technical communication service course.Technical Communication Quarterly,8 (3), 249–267.

Johnson, C. M. (2001). A survey of current research on online Communities of Practice. The Internet and Higher Education, 4(1), 45-60.

Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge university press, 1991.

Liedka, J. (1999). Linking competitive advantage with Communities of Practice. Journal of Management Inquiry, 8(1), 5–16.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1980). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard university press.

Wenger, E. (2011). Communities of Practice: A brief introduction.

Wick, C. (2000). Knowledge management and leadership opportunities for technical communicators. Technical Communication, 47(4), 515–529.