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


In this column a range of literature sources have been explored which offer definitions pertinent to the themes of this Mesh Guide (and associated article).  This serves to provide context for the other columns and to create a secure base for the argument put forward for the role of social learning in teacher collaborations, in particular in blended and online learning environments.  

Our fundamental notion is that the best online learning is social and active rather than discrete and that, within the field of teacher education, it is connected with authentic classroom contexts and a shared domain of pedagogic and subject knowledge. We draw from the large body of research on communities of practice, connectivism, social network theory, and situated learning. We also look at roles within CoPs, thinking about how these differ from roles in F2F learning situations and how they result in a different kind of knowledge construction.

Social learning theory, which evolved from social constructivist thinking, was used by Lave and Wenger (2011) in creating the notion of communities of practice (CoPs).  It rests on the three key elements of the domain, the community and the practice. In unpicking the nature of communities of practice Seufert (2000) likens their development to a life cycle, evolving and dissipating towards ‘settlement’.  This sits in contrast to Lave and Wenger’s notion of the learner being on a journey from novice to expert, rather than the evolution of the community.

The roles of participants in CoPs were recognised by Johnson (2001) as fluid.  The synchronous and asynchronous nature of communications in these virtual environments further supports this.  Downes (2010) suggests the term connectivism for the learning in blended and online environments, characterised by openness, autonomy, diversity and interactivity.  Virtual CoPs can demonstrate these characteristics which Anderson and Dron (2011) explain as networked connections between people, digital artifacts and content.

Models such as TPACK have emerged (Mishra and Koehler, 2006) to further unpick the interaction between technological knowledge, pedagogic knowledge and content knowledge in a technology enhanced learning environment.  This informs the view of the authors that social learning taking place in an online or blended environment must be informed by both technical and teacher knowledge on the part of members a CoP. Puentedura’s (2010) SAMR model can inform the ways in which the knowledge domains mentioned above play out in practice.  That is to say that technology within the practice of an online community member might be used through substitution, augmentation, modification and/or redefinition. The contention underpinning this MESH Guide is that online and blended learning through a CoP is likely to be largely socially constructed and supportive.  Exemplification of this can be found in the case studies section.