Professional Learning Communities and Communities of Practice to Support Teaching and Learning

Communities of Practice & Professional Learning CommunitiesProfessional Learning Communities (PLC) and Communities of Practice (CoP) can be used to support both learning and teaching. PLCs and CoPs are similar in that members within each of these groups share a common vision or goal. Specifically, CoPs are defined as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Wenger-Trayner, n.d., para 2). PLCs are “teachers [who] meet regularly, setting goals and committing to a shared educational vision (Adams, 2009).

PLCs support teaching by reducing time spent on lesson planning and development of learning activities though the collective intelligence gained through shared experiences among group members (Adams, 2009). Basically, a PLC’s goal is to ensure that students are actually learning, not just getting taught. Aha! Now that is a novel idea! PLCs support learning by focusing the teacher’s attention on the student’s learning (Adams, 2009). PLCs are also helpful to new teachers by introducing them into an established framework for “tried and true” methods of teaching. One huge benefit of participating in a PLC is timesaving! Nobody wants to reinvent the wheel if there’s a perfectly good one already working. PLCs offer support to instructors looking for solutions though open discussion of what works and what doesn’t. This means that members in the PLC need to be honest with each other and trust the information that’s presented. Teachers can then use this information to create lesson plans more efficiently with the comfort of knowing that it works.

Community of Practice - imageCoPs support teaching and learning more unintentionally, where learners and teachers are often intermingled (Wenger-Trayner, n.d.). Information shared within a CoP enables individuals to make personal connections, “engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other and share information…that enable them to learn from each other” (Wenger-Trayner, n.d.). This type of community meets informally either in face-to-face or more often than not, they “meet” in online discussion forums through virtual networks. CoPs share a common interest or goal, and maintain communication for the purpose of progressing their field of interest.

Technology is making it easier and easier for anyone – young, old, educated or not, to be able to participate in CoPs. PLCs too are no longer confined to the four walls of the school. Educators can learn from teachers across the world. Social media such as Facebook allows groups of like-minded individuals to collaborate in groups with similar interests. Learning is no longer “consumption driven…As such, individuals can contribute to the knowledge-building process instead of passively consuming prepackaged knowledge and information” (Bonk, 2009 p. 328). Today’s technology can “personalize, customize, and individualize learning…foster learner exchange, collaboration, and the design of new course content and information” (Bonk, 2009 p. 328). Technology as a whole has greatly enhanced the population in members of such groups. Technology can help to put the pieces together. Information from around the world can be “repurposed with hyperlinks, added context, discussion forums, pictures, and other media…that can evolve and expand” allowing for long-term global documentation (Bonk, 2009 p. 335).

The passive roles students used to play are much different than in years past. Now students are “actively making choices about which Google video or current TV episode to watch. Which ones to share. Which ones to comment on…subscribe to…the choices are endless” (Bonk, 2009 p. 328).


Adams, C. (2009). The power of collaboration. Instructor, 119(1), 28-31.

Bonk, C. J. (2009). The world is open. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Wenger-Trayner, E. (n.d.). Intro to communities of practice. Retrieved from:

Creation of a Learning Activity

I have been thinking about a learning activity to teach dental hygiene students different toothbrushing techniques and how to identify which technique is best for a patient’s dentition, age and dexterity.  From this week’s lesson about CoPs and PLCs I think students will find it helpful to seek information from CoPs.  A few CoPs students may utilize in this activity is the Facebook group Dental Hygienists Talk and AmyRDHListers, but the most obvious and accessible one would be their classmates.  As for technology use in this activity I am planning to use Flipped Classroom using YouTube and Gamification to supplement the learning activity.  YouTube videos can show and instruct students everything about toothbrushing techniques – when to use it, how to do it, and why specific techniques should be used. Games can be used to practice the techniques and test their comprehension of when each technique is most applicable.

Additional Information

I found this research article about the need for dental hygiene faculty development by using communities of practice. I think this is a great idea!  A Model for Cultivating Dental Hygiene Faculty Development Within a Community of Practice.

Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner have a great site dedicated to communities of practice.  Their mission “is to find and work with people and organizations who share our interest in learning and who are determined to improve the learning capability of the social systems in which they live.”

What is a Professional Learning Community? An article by Richard DuFour, Three big ideas guide this school reform effort: commitment to student learning, a culture of collaboration, and a focus on results. Published in the May 2004 issue of Educational Leadership.

Questions to Ponder… 

Are there any professional learning communities for dental hygiene education? And if so, are they specific to one institution, local, or national?  Should there be more emphasis on building communities of practice for dental hygiene education?


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