Creating and sustaining online communities of practice

Tim Bilham

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section


Traditional distance and e-learning has been driven by models where efficiencies have been won by delivering identical content to many learners. Learners study individualistically, indeed many of the ways we talk about education assumes that learning is done by individuals, and often on their own. Furthermore much e-learning is based upon a model of knowledge transmission, a pre-determined quantum of information transferred from an expert, often an individual, to a recipient. As such it rarely recognises that the learners have a valuable and real personal contribution to make, and traditional designs and delivery mechanisms militate against participation. Yet learners, especially lifelong learners, have enormous experience that is too infrequently shared within learning programmes. The proposition that learning is social and involves a deepening process of experience of participation in daily activities (Lave and Wenger, 1991) is well accepted. Their model of situated learning involves a process of engagement within a 'community of practice' (Wenger, 1998). Professional life, including for example in healthcare (Urquhart, 2002), typically contains many communities of practice but current e-learning methodologies rarely provide effective support. Some newly emerging virtual learning environments not only offer an opportunity to support communities of practice but also the possibility of personalising learning by focusing on the process of learning rather than the delivery of content. This paper will describe how different learning designs can impact differently and crucially upon learning and its effectiveness. Drawing from early reviews of online postgraduate programmes in healthcare, it reflects upon how using a social constructivist perspective can motivate participation amongst learners and with practitioners in the community of practice, can promote the sharing of good practice and can facilitate the development of reflective practitioners. It discusses the impact of this approach to online educational design on the practice of teaching, learning and assessment.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCreating and Sustaining an Effective Learning Environment
EditorsLinda Carey, Sylvia Huntley-Moore, Anne Jordan, Saranne Magennis, Barry McMullin
Place of PublicationDublin
PublisherAll Ireland Society for Higher Education (AISHE)
Publication statusPublished - 2006

Publication series

NameTim Bilham
PublisherAll Ireland Society for Higher Education (AISHE)


  • e-learning
  • learning design
  • communities of practice
  • healthcare


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