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Regional Educational Laboratory Program

Can Online Learning Communities Achieve the Goals of Traditional Professional Learning Communities? What the Literature Says


Description: Needs assessment conversations with rural MidĀ­Atlantic Professional Learning Research Alliance members revealed a widespread interest in the idea of online professional learning communities (PLCs) for use in schools and school districts across the region. In considering online PLCs as an instrument of professional development, alliance members requested guidance from the available scientific literature about the advantages and disadvantages of online PLCs and best practices regarding the design and setup of online PLCs. The current literature review and synthesis aims at developing a knowledge base to inform this audience on how to develop, implement, and maintain online and hybrid PLCs and how communication technologies can be used to support them.

Research Questions:

  1. What are the advantages and challenges of online and hybrid models of PLCs compared with traditional (exclusively face-to-face) PLCs?
  2. What, if any, are some emerging best practices in designing and organizing online and hybrid PLCs?

Study Design: The literature search is confined to peer-reviewed journal articles and government sponsored research studies published during 2000–2012. Literature on online and hybrid PLCs will be reviewed as well as literature on traditional PLCs, prioritizing most recent reviews and the most highly or frequently cited.

The sources will be synthesized according to five dimensions of professional development:
  • Degree of personal motivation to participate;
  • Quality of individual engagement and learning;
  • Quality of group interaction and group dynamics;
  • Potential for translating learning into actual practice; and
  • Potential for changing organizational culture.

Projected Release Date: Fall 2013

Research Alliance: Professional Learning Research Alliance, REL Mid-Atlantic

Keywords: Professional Development; Instructional Methods or Teaching Practices; School leaders; Teachers; Literature Review; Professional Learning Communities

Study Related Products: Evaluation of a District-Wide Implementation of a Professional Learning Community Initiative

Publication Type:
What's Known
Online Availability:
Publication Date:
September 2013