Discovering the power of good questions
The definitions of these terms is often fuzzy. When the context is learning I see three distinct concepts that are often treated as interchangeable: personal (learning) networks, collaborative learning groups, coordination, and community. These aspects are complementary, not interchangeable. Personal networks may lead to collaboration; communities often contain personal networks; collaboration can lead to community; and community can lead to collaboration (and development of personal networks).
Complementary, not interchangeable. Each has deep value in and of itself. There is no linear chain where one leads to the other. The key difference between community and the other two is : “the work of community is to develop the learning partnership that creates an identity around a common agenda or area for learning . . . why people are there, what they can learn from each other, and what they can achieve by learning together” (de Laat et.al, n.d., p. 12) over time.
And where does coordination fit into all of this? Collaboration means to work together to co-create something new. Coordination means to split up the work, and each member of the group works independently on their part, with one individual assigned to put everything together at the end. This approach divides the students, is oriented toward individual activities, and won’t lead to the complex interactions that can support deep learning. The purpose of using project teams in education is providing the opportunity to learn together.
de Laat, M., Trayner, B., Wenger, E. (n.d.). Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: A conceptual framework. Ruud de Moore Centrum, Open University. Retrieved from http://www.open.ou.nl/rslmlt/Wenger_Trayner_DeLaat_Value_creation.pdf
Kirschner, P., Strijbox, J.-W., Kreijns, K. & Beers, P.J. (2004). Designing electronic collaborative learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development, 52(3), 47-66. doi: 10.1007/BF02504675.