Communities of Practice as a Support Function for Social Learning in Distance Learning Programs

  • Ashley Healy
Part of the Communications in Computer and Information Science book series (CCIS, volume 49)


Communities of Practice (CoP) are organic entities, which evolve as a result of the passion for the domain by its members. CoP present opportunities for social learning and supporting distance learning programs.

But, What Is Social Learning?

Simply, learning is the process of moving from not knowing to knowing. The ‘social’ aspect of the learning relies upon human interaction. Therefore, social learning is constructed from conversations and participation within a CoP. It is about ‘how’ members learn, rather than the content or ‘what’ they learn. This is in contrast to the Cartesian vision of learning, which proposes, “I think, therefore I am”. Social Learning puts forward the alternative “We participate, therefore we are” (Seely Brown and Alder, 2008).

How Do CoP Support Social Learning?

CoP support social learning through an apprenticeship model. Members take on simple tasks under the guidance of the community, they then progress to more demanding tasks as confidence, skills and knowledge improve. The CoP supports the apprentice by interacting regularly, sharing tales and experiences. Social Learning within a community is ‘learning about a subject’ as well as ‘learning to be a full participant’. The shared passion and the interaction engages the learner and enables them to acquire deep knowledge about a subject and the ability to participate in the community through productive enquiry and social interaction.


communities of practice CoP learning social learning distance learning 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ashley Healy
    • 1
  1. 1.School of ComputingUniversity of the West of ScotlandPaisley

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