Communities of Practice, Connectivism & Professional Learning Networks

Nonlingual Expression of Concepts

As a math teacher, the idea of representing the concepts of Connectivism, communities of practice, and professional learning network with math formulas seemed interesting. I started with three different yet similar objects: the cylinder, the rectangular prism, and the triangular prism. All three of these shapes are similar in that they are three-dimensional shapes that have both surface area and volume. The only difference they have is that shape of their bases. One base is a circle, one is a triangle and one is a square. I then looked at their formulas. The sections of the formulas in parenthesis represent how you find the area of the bases. Once you find these different areas, you multiply by the shape’s height to find the shapes volume. This means that the only parts of the formulas that are different go back to the different shaped faces. There is still the common element of multiplying by height and the common end result of volume. I built the formulas for a community of practice, Connectivism, and professional learning network in a similar way. They are similar concepts with similar pieces and goals; they just have a few differences.

Just like the shapes, Connectivism, communities of practice and professional learning communities have differences. According to Siemens, Connectivism presents a model of learning that acknowledges the tectonic shifts in society where learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity. (2004) Connectivism is a theory with guiding principles that suggest how learning should be conducted in such a rapidly changing world. This is different from CoPs and PLNs which are actual groups of people. Communities of practice, as defined by Wenger-Trayner, are 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. (2015) These groups have a sense of domain, community and practice that drives their desire to participate within the community. The communities can come together over many different interests. Professional learning networks are similar to CoPs, but differ in that they then to be groups of people who have a shared profession, whereas CoPs can be comprised of many different people. PLNs are typically individuals with a shared profession who come together to grow professionally. Whitby says it well when he states that A PLN is a tool that uses social media and technology to collect, communicate, collaborate and create with connected colleagues anywhere at any time. (2013)

Despite these differences, there are commonalities that link all of these concepts together. In the same way height is the final dimension to make all three shapes 3D, establishing and maintaining connections is the common thread in these concepts. Connectivism is a learning theory that is defined by making connections with other people and ideas through various networks. Communities of practice are groups of people who come together over a common interest or goal. Professional learning communities are groups of people who share similar professional goals and network together to grow. All three of these concepts rely on community, networking and communication to do what they set out to do. In the same way that all three formulas serve to find volume, all three of these formulas involving the three concepts lead to the same result. That end result is professional and personal growth. The reason why we network with CoPs and PLNs is to help us learn and grow as individuals. Connectivism is the theory that supports how and why learning in these environments is successful. They are similar yet different pieces that come together to try and lead us to improvement and growth in different ways.

All three shapes share many similarities with the exception being their base. All three concepts here share many similarities as well. They may have different pieces and may look different on the outside, but they have common elements that are guiding us to the ultimate goal of professional and personal improvement.


Siemens, G. (2004, December 12). Elearnspace. Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Retrieved June 05, 2018, from

Wenger-Trayner, E., & Wenger-Trayner, B. (2015). Introduction to communities of practice. Retrieved June 05, 2018, from

Whitby, T. (2013, November 18). How Do I Get a PLN? Retrieved June 05, 2018, from


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