Within the trend of lifelong learning I’m convinced that peer to peer learning is an important and increasing way humans will learn from each other. First of all content is all over the internet and can be found easely. Universities, learning platforms as Udemy or Coursera offer a large range of digital courses  and micro learnings. We follow “Youtubers” or become member of online communities to develop our skills or insights. Especially the growth of learning communities triggers me.

What follows is what I observed by doing several interviews with community managers, community members and 2 focus groups between community members with as topic “How can we facilitate peer to peer learning in online Communities of Practice”.

Situational learning and relationships

First of all I would like to refer to Jean Lave situational learning theory. She sees learning as cognitive process that takes place in a social context, which includes elements of observation, extraction of ideas, decision making, and reflection.

 This view of learning sees social interaction as a critical component encouraging learners to become a community of learners espousing certain beliefs and behaviors.

 I would like to broaden this, I see relationships as the supportive element for learning within the community. Relationships between people between people and concepts, thought, knowledge objects. This goes further than a learning network where they focus on human connections.  

Learning communities

Conditions of a community : a common goal, the feeling of belonging, trust ( affective and cognitive) and last but not least commitment.

There is a clear difference between learning communities about complex topics or the open source communities eg between UX and coding people. 

Open source communities

Open source communities have a clear common goal. Peer review, collaboration to reach together the common goal are strongly present. The asked questions are specific enough and knowledge is transparent and shared.  Central question is “How does this bring us closer to a resolution?”
Members don’t want to use voting’s ( smells politics) & conversation is directed by action. This last charachteristic difference open source communities with other learning communities. The open source community has a clearer action directed goal to follow. You can see it in the language they use and their behavior, which is based on commitments.

In other learning communities knowledge sharing and knowing is more in the lead than acting. But still it is important that we see learning as a means to get things done and we don’t lose ourself. ( ref Jerome Bruner) 


Special kind communities are those between researchers, “collaboratory”. 

“A collaboratory is an organizational entity that spans distance, supports rich and recurring human interaction oriented to a common research area, and fosters contact between researchers who are both known and unknown to each other, and provides access to data sources, artifacts, and tools required to accomplish research tasks.”

There is a key distinction between informal, one-to-one collaborations, which have long been common between researchers, and the more tightly coordinated, large-scale organizational structures, which are a less natural fit. This was also well illustrated by the interviews I did.

In particular, there are 3 types of barriers.

  1. Scientific knowledge is difficult to aggregate
  2. Scientists generally enjoy a high degree of independence, both in their day-to-day work practices as well as in the larger directions of their work
  3. The difficulty of cross-institutional work. (IP and API)

Decentralized Learning Communities

We speak about centralized and decentralized communities. Centralized ones are the communities within a organisation, they are often build top down. Later on I will write more about the differences and the consquences on learning. For this article I only interviewed decentralized communities.

Within ( general) learning communities the topics, members are discussing and learning about, are complex problems. The learning moments they are looking for are not teacher/ learner dyad but a peer to peer learning ( not peer to peer teaching) situation within both are equal learners. They want to learn from each other’s experiences, within comparable complex problems or situations. The position between the learners and between the learner and the topic is dynamic.

Personal branding/ Ego is not appreciated and can be punished ( if social not accepted). As there is always a personal goal of the members which interferes within a collaboration. Trust and commitment are even more important and the dialogue can be less active or dynamic. Knowledge is not always transparent. Dialogue or a learning moment is not always followed by an (direct) action.

The collaborative learning process: 

Inter- and intra-learnings

Intra- and inter-reflection is a process where we share & build knowledge. Is intra-learning, (self-reflection making associations between old and new knowledge) the driving force behind inter-learning or is it the reverse way? [1]We try to make sense of something, within the dialogue new insights can be build.
The members of such a community are active learners. The learners commit themself in actual activities and avoid the extreme position which denies any prefabricated content in what they learn. 

Participation framework

Learning is seen as a process that takes place in a participation framework, not in an individual mind. It is a Ping-Pong game. This learning is mediated by the differences of perspectives of the co-learners. Insights are distributed among the co -learners. If both learning and the subject learned are embedded in a participatory framework than the portability of learned skills must rely on the commensurability of certain forms of  participation.

The importance of relations is undervalued. Imagine the sheer size offering each of which is a treasure trove of value. Yet the learner himself remains the active element. It is huge and I think many aspects are still to discover, on different fields pedagogical, social, anthropological… 

In collaborative learning, a learner’s success depends on the ability to change contexts and integrate into new participating frameworks. The learner’s ability consists not only of his ability to switch between the different ways of participation, but also of understanding the pre-reflective grasp of complex situations. In short, control involves the timing of actions in relation to changing circumstances: the ability to improvise


Covid19 it puts more people in the position to start learning on a digital way. The number of virtual communities of practice and interst increased. This opens a whole new network of people international, interdisciplinary in fact a new network of experienced based knowledge

 The way relations can be used to support collabrative and individual learning is on a path that we need to explore further. Technology can help us with this. Curious how… keep an eye on the blogs!

[1] Vygotsky (Social cultural theory), put the inter personal knowledge in first place, which becomes intrapersonal knowledge.  

[2] Interview to do with Kim Willliam Gordon

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