Communities of Practice: If We Build It (Well), They Will Come


Online learning
Professional learning

Discover how to build an inclusive and sustainable community of engaged educators that provides and shares relevant product knowledge and instructional strategies and helps you acquire and retain customers.

Research shows that when educators collaborate around instructional practices, student outcomes and educator satisfaction improves while educator turnover decreases. There are two common ways educators collaborate: Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and Communities of Practice (CoPs).

PLCs are collaborative teams focused on student learning that generally meet within grade level or content area teams. These teams use a continuous improvement model to plan, implement, study, and analyze curriculum, instruction, and differentiation to enhance student learning.

CoPs tend to be broader communities of educators that share common interests and/or goals. They build collective knowledge through sharing and/or creating resources, discussion, and reflection. In this blog, we explore how organizers can build sustainable and inclusive CoPs that actively engage participants.


Planning a Community of Practice

How will participants interact?

Clearly defining the community being served and its purpose is an essential first step to developing and maintaining an effective CoP.

  • Who is the core audience?
  • What is the purpose or goal of the CoP?
  • How often and by what means do you want participants to communicate with one another?
  • What communication features or prompts do participants respond best to?
  • What level of transparency or privacy will participants have communicating within the CoP (or for non-participants viewing it)?

The community must share a common bond with a defined purpose or shared outcome in mind. To get a sense of what this can look like, try exploring a few established CoPs like Adobe Education Exchange, Pracademics Community of Practice Leaders, or Outschool’s Communities of Practice.

Where should you build a Community of Practice?

Consider the needs, preferences, and challenges of your core audience.

  • How well can they navigate digital environments?
  • What will the learning curve look like for utilizing a new tool?
  • Does a face-to-face alternative make more sense than a digital environment?
  • Where do they currently go most often for information on instructional practice? What tools do they currently use to connect with their peers?
  • What policy, technology, or budget constraints should be considered?
  • Who will be prepared to train and support participants on how to use the features of the community?

A CoP can be built anywhere, whether as part of a learning management system (LMS), a social media platform, or as a section of a new or existing website. Whatever you do, start small. Avoid the temptation to build dozens of features. Focus on the immediate needs of your core audience, and only after that is sustainable, consider enhancing functionality (as driven by the needs of the community itself).