Wenger (1998) states that, we cannot design learning, but we can design for it. I like this and it makes me wonder what would be a good or usable design for learning. Is it a question of physical, social and digital environment, maybe all of them and additionally a question how we design the course from didactic or pedagogical point of view. When we design collaborative learning process we need to take into account each of these. Teaching is a matter of creating environments that supports learners’ efforts to construct meanings (Borko & Putnam, 1996).

Couple of years ago we held a course for university teachers and it was called Teacher as a developer. It was designed to last for one year and it was designed on the idea of collaborative learning (e.g. Heron, 1996; Reason, 2002; Sahlberg, 2000; Hakkarainen, Lonka, & Lipponen, 2004; Lakkala, 2010; Muukkonen-van der Meer, 2011).

In the course the collaborative learning was embedded in the community of the small group (study group), the whole group of the course as well as the community in which the course participants were working. The main focus in designing was on the process facilitation and the structures, but the content was not determined beforehand. The idea was that the students would start to produce the content based on their needs of their teaching competence but also based on the educational developmental needs of their working environment. The students were informed about the pedagogical design and approach of the course. (Hirsto, Lampinen & Syrjäkari, 2013.)

The participants engaged in intensive, self-regulating and long-term small-groups, which can be described in terms of community of learners (Leve & Wenger 1991; Wenger, 1998, 1999). They took care of the cohesion, interaction and climate of their group in order to secure a systematic and productive progression of the group work. They also set their goals, planed their studies, constructed their knowledge, and reflected on and evaluated their learning as well as group processes together. (Hirsto, Lampinen & Syrjäkari, 2013.)

The participants had two strong communities of practice (Wenger 1998, 1999) in which they build their teacher identities, those of their disciplinary context and the teacher education context (the course). Wenger considers “brokers”, those that belong to many different communities of practice, as the ones who are the most creative. In this sense these university teachers have potential of being or becoming creative in developing teaching in their teaching contexts.

We had great results and learning outcomes in the course which I could discuss later in the next post. But if I reflect on this to ONL162 course I can see some similar processes going on. I’m part of the PBL-group but also a member of the big ONL community but my working community is acting a great part of the learning context. These are different communities of practices but they are connected to each other in my personal learning. The interesting part is that I meet my course mates only online. Would I even recognize them on the street? Could a community of practice work only online? Maybe yes and maybe that’s actually how it happens because of good design. We are well facilitated with meetings, webinars, tweetchat etc. which support the feeling of belonging but they also engage at least me with learning. It might be frustrating sometimes but maybe it is part of the learning and collaboration. I can also see communities of practice only online. If someone is active e.g. in Twitter she will develop her reputation and slowly enter the core of the community of practice. I can recognize it and support her position and reputation by following her. Clever design. 🙂



Hakkarainen, K., Lonka, K. & Lipponen, L. (2004). Tutkiva oppiminen.  Järki, tunteet ja kulttuuri oppimisen sytyttäjinä. Helsinki: WSOY

Hirsto, L. (2004). Long-term learning-groups in higher education: practical and theoretical perspectives. Paper presented in the SIG Higher Education -conference of EARLI, Stockholm, Sweden.

Hirsto, L., Syrjäkari, M. & Lampinen, M. (2012). Teacher students’ perceptions and expectations on tutoring long-term collaborative learning groups. Paper presented in the ECER-conference, Cadiz, Spain.

Hirsto, L., Lampinen, M. & Syrjäkari, M. (2013). Learning outcomes of university lecturers from a process-oriented university pedagogical course. TRAMES – A Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences, 17(4), 347–365. http://www.kirj.ee/23009/

Lakkala, M. (2010). How to design educational settings to promote collaborative inquiry: Pedagogical infrastructures for technologyenhanced progressive inquiry. University of Helsinki, Institute of Behavioural Sciences, Studies in Psychology 66:2010.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Muukkonen-van der Meer, H. (2011). Perspectives on knowledge creating inquiry in higher education. University of Helsinki, Institute of Behavioural Sciences, Studies in Psychology 75:2011.

Heron. J. (1996). Co-operative inquiry. Research into the Human Condition. London: SAGE.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice. Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.