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Learning Communities Online

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Last updated by Glen


A group of organisations or individuals that chooses to operate as a collaborative network, utilizing electronic and face-to-face mediums, in order to enhance the learning outcomes and opportunities for students, their whanau and educators.


The term ‘Learning Communities Online’ (LCO) was coined in 2002 when the first resource to supports’ online collaboration was developed. LCO describes a group of schools that collaborate to provide enhanced teaching and learning opportunities for staff and students across electronic networks.

The choice of words was very intentional, with each word in the title having significance:

--    Learning – this must always be the primary focus of these communities. The emphasis here is on the emerging pedagogical practices that must be explored and adopted in the networked school, and on the outcomes that are sought for learners. This also recognises that teachers are also learners in this system, and that provision must be made for them to access learning opportunities in this way.

--    Community – a networked school is more likely to succeed if it acts as part of a collaborative community. The term community here embraces the notions of participation, trust, agreement and purpose. Individual schools may be a part of several communities, and each will be defined differently by its purpose and the roles of those within it. For most it is likely that there will be a primary community, one defined by geography or special character, to which an individual school will belong.

--    Online – a defining feature of a networked school is that much of the activity will take place in the online environment. This will include both synchronous and asynchronous activity, using a wide range of technologies - including video conferencing, webinars, learning management systems and Web2.0 tools. Online access should embrace both the use of specific access end points in a school and provision for ubiquitous access by students from anywhere, at any time using any device.


There are a range of reasons why schools may choose to be a part of an LCO, including:

  • providing greater access to curriculum choices for students
  • providing access to subject matter experts to enhance school-based learning
  • participation in virtual field trips
  • engaging students in collaborative projects
  • supporting gifted and talented students by enabling them to connect with others with similar skills and interests
  • sharing (both accessing and contributing) a wide range of rich and current resources to support learning
  • providing professional learning opportunities for teachers, including virtual staff meetings etc.

Whatever the reason, there are considerable benefits that can be realised from making this sort of commitment, including:

  • retention of students who may otherwise choose to go elsewhere for their education
  • retention of specialist staff who are now able to teach in their specialist area, rather than taking ‘filler’ classes to make up a teaching load
  • access to experts in subject areas not available locally
  • sharing of resources, resulting in lower costs and increased relevance and use
  • provision of high interest, relevant and authentic learning experiences for students.

We live in an age of ‘collabetition’, where the traditional view of schools as being in competition-with one another must be balanced against the considerable benefits of collaboration and supporting each others’ work. Commitment to being a part of a LCO is one way of achieving this.