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

Dimensions of social learning in teacher groups

This article is a content analysis of 23 selected articles with the aim of presenting a theoretical framework of dimensions and indicators of online and offline social learning in groups of teachers. The starting point is the three overarching perspectives of social learning: social networks, communities of practice and learning teams. Wenger et al. (2011) distinguish between a community as a partnership with a common agenda and a network as a set of connections between people (Wenger et al., 2011). A further distinction is the idea of team learning defined by tasks and schedules within organisations rather than by knowledge (Knapp, 2010). However, in practice these definitions often overlap (Doornbos & De Laat, 2012). The focus of this review study is on the aspects of social learning that facilitate a group’s knowledge creation and sharing and its application to practice. Social learning in teacher groups is defined as: ‘undertaking (a series of) learning activities by teachers in collaboration with colleagues, resulting in a change in cognition and/or behaviour at the individual and/or group level’ (Doppenberg, Bakx, & Den Brok, 2012, p. 548-549). The authors acknowledge the role of technology in facilitating interactions between learners, learners and teachers, and learners and content.

Four dimensions were identified:

Dimension 1: Practice
‘Based on the review results, the dimension Practice can be summarised in two indicators:
'Integrated or non-integrated activities', representing the extent to which group knowledge and activities are integrated in everyday practice
'Temporarily or permanent activities', which describes the social learning attitude as reflected in the duration or sustainability of learning activities.

Dimension 2: Domain and Value Creation
Group dialogues can lead to reframing existing perceptions: ‘In this way, the group integrates these views into a new mental construct that is collectively held.’
‘Key indicators of domain and value creation in teacher groups are:  'Sharing or broadening/deepening knowledge and skills', reflecting the extent to which the group develops collective knowledge and skills through dialogue and 'Individual or collective value creation', which describes the level to which the group develops shared value such as group ownership, mutual inspiration, or positive interdependence.

Dimension 3: Collective Identity
‘When group members work interdependently with a shared purpose and responsibility for collective success it can result in a shared identity (Knapp, 2010).’ Diverse learning positions may be fulfilled within the group as they collaborate as knowledge workers such as ‘gatekeeper’, ‘network star’, ‘technological guru’, ‘e-facilitator’, ‘braiders, or ‘accomplished fellows’.
‘The dimension collective identity can be characterized by: ‘Shared or unshared identity', which is related to group history and social and cultural background and 'Strong or weak ties', which reflects the sense and intensity of general contact among group members; The extent to which group members perceive each other as 'task executors or knowledge workers'.

Dimension 4: Organisation
‘Teacher group organisation can be characterized by: The extent to which the group shows 'externally directed or self-organised learning', the focus on 'local or global activities', the presence of 'hierarchic or equal relationships and the extent to which the group shows a shared interactional repertoire, reflected in ‘shared or non-shared interactional norms’.’


The dimensions can help to understand the group behaviour in relation to their learning goals:
‘Our findings suggest that it is beneficial for groups to discuss the following questions: given this group, how are the dimensions and including indicators intertwined and integrated, how do they contribute to the cohesion and functioning of the group, and which one tends to dominate? What learning opportunities do they offer and what value do they produce? The importance of this approach is to acknowledge the unique social setting, dynamics and desires of each group as it is situated in their practice. Based on the configuration of the group, professional development applying these dimensions can be encouraged.’

Online PDF source:'s%20in%20a%20name%20TTTP%20accepted.pdf

Key ideas

- There are three overarching perspectives of social learning: social networks, communities of practice and learning teams.
- Four dimensions (1) practice, (2) domain and value creation, (3) collective identity and (4) organization can help to understand group behaviour in relation to learning goals


Doornbos, A., & De Laat, M. (2012). De waarde van CoPs in het Groene Onderwijs [The value of CoPs in green education]: Onderzoeksrapport ter ondersteuning van de doorstart van CoPs met de nadruk op verbindend leren en zichtbaar ontwikkelen. Heerlen: Scientific Centre for Teacher Research (LOOK).

Doppenberg, J., Bakx, A., & Den Brok, P. (2012). Collaborative teacher learning in different primary school settings. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 18(5), 547-566.

Knapp, R. (2010). Collective (team) learning process models: A conceptual review. Human Resource Development Review, 9(3), 285-299.

Vrieling, E., Van den Beemt, A. and De Laat, M., 2016. What’s in a name: Dimensions of social learning in teacher groups. Teachers and Teaching, 22(3), pp.273-292.

Wenger, E., Trayner, B., & De Laat, M. (2011). Telling stories about the value of communities and networks: A toolkit. Heerlen: Open University of the Netherlands.