Toward Developing a Learning Community Framework

Joel Wiebe, a Ph.D. student from UofT, and I are collaborating on Action Research. I met Joel through Jim Slotta and was intrigued by the thought of actually immersing myself into research again.

Below is a summary of our journey so far……

Education is currently faced with a challenge to prepare students for a rapidly changing, technologically networked, and economically competitive future. This has placed growing demands on teachers and on the development of new pedagogies and technologies to support these ways of learning. For instance, policymakers are increasingly promoting global and 21st-century competencies (e.g., collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, etc.) and global competencies such as interpersonal and intercultural skills (including the ability to take on multiple perspectives). The Learning Community approach has evolved along with emerging understandings of how people learn and how expertise is developed in authentic scientific communities. Its core tenets include students taking responsibility and agency within the classroom, students engaging in generative tasks such as collective inquiry, hypothesis and theory development, and building on one another’s ideas. Although such approaches are guided by broad pedagogical principles or interaction patterns (e.g., inquiry cycles, jigsaw, peer review, etc.) reporting of these rarely capture the knowledge of implementation or draw on hard-fought knowledge of instructional processes about what works. 

Throughout this coming year, we plan to:

(1) apply and develop notations for capturing the knowledge of implementation and

(2) materialize a framework for a learning community approach that makes explicit the underlying instructional processes and technological tools for supporting activities.

Over previous decades, it has become clear that traditional methods of instruction (i.e., passive instruction and lecture) are not enough to develop deep conceptual understandings and the types of competencies that are held by domain experts. The Learning Community approach emerged from the interdisciplinary field of the learning sciences in the early 1990s—often in technology-enhanced contexts—to prepare students for a knowledge economy (i.e., whereby intellectual property and work with ideas was central to the growth of the economy). Learning communities often emphasize learning that is situated in social practices of everyday experts (i.e., identifying problems or wonderings, gathering information, performing experiments or projects, and engaging in knowledge-building dialogues with one another). Therefore, authentic practice became an integral component of this work. This work has largely resisted reducing knowledge to facts and procedures or reducing practices to pre-established activities but views knowledge as one might view scientific discovery, built through participation in authentic practices, generated collaboratively through dialogue and negotiation. 

A more recent model of Learning Communities emerged in the late 2000s, that addressed the challenges in implementation of some previous approaches that resisted pre-scripting the activities of students or backward design from learning objectives. It also recognized the opportunities of Web 2.0 and technologies in the classroom, developing new software tools for personal computers and large classroom displays to support collective inquiry. This approach is called Knowledge Community and Inquiry (KCI). It is guided by four broad pedagogical principles that relate to (1) students sharing and building their knowledge in a common digital space, (2) collaborative activities target assessable learning goals, (3) the digital, shared knowledge base is editable and improvable by all students, and (4) the teacher has a valued and specific role in collaborative activities. Although existing learning community approaches are guided by broad pedagogical principles (such as those listed above), or interaction patterns (e.g., jigsaw, inquiry cycles, and peer review), they tend to lack the specifications in terms of implementation knowledge (how “good” learning community curricula enacted by educational practitioners) and the knowledge of why instructional or classroom management decisions are made. Frameworks of learning are beginning to shed light on the relationship between learning and levels of cognitive engagement. The ICAP framework specifies interactive, constructive, active, and passive levels of cognitive engagement, but these too lack specificity in terms of implementation. It is well-recognized that interactive learning has benefits to learning (involving knowledge borrowing and building on peers’ inferences) but how can we draw upon teacher knowledge and hard-fought instructional knowledge of how learning works to design and enact activities that involve student-generated knowledge and transactive student dialogue? How can we represent these activities in some form of notation to support sharing and iterative design among teachers and other pedagogical designers? What technologies can facilitate these types of activities and support the cognitive, social, and meta-cognitive activities of students? These are some of our guiding questions.

Currently, we have begun looking at current lesson plans and activities, planning a marquee inquiry activity, and reflecting on the design layers of our co-design process.


If you are interested in our work or would like to connect, please reach out.

Emilia Martin – UCC MYP Mathematics Subject Coordinator – [email protected] – Twitter @msemiliamartin

Joel Wiebe – Ph.D. Candidate at Univerity of Toronto – [email protected]

#mathmatters @mcurtin @mmoore @scraig @jmedved @ljensen

2 thoughts on “Toward Developing a Learning Community Framework

  1. @emartin Your action plan and larger line of inquiry is a really interesting one. When you putt learner agency at the highest level of the design process it forces you to have to reimagine and reconsider many things. I love this kind of big thinking. Count me in! @gnichols

  2. Thanks for sharing this, especially about The Learning Community approach and for offering up some opportunities for share and connect! I think @adamcaplan would be interested in this approach to student agency!

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