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Ask A REL Response

April 2021


What research has been conducted on individuals' perceptions of learning communities as an effective means to deliver professional development?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study individuals' perceptions of learning communities as an effective means to deliver professional development. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed individuals' perceptions of learning communities as an effective means to deliver professional development. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. These references are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Akerson, V. L., Cullen, T. A., & Hanson, D. L. (2009). Fostering a community of practice through a professional development program to improve elementary teachers' views of nature of science and teaching practice. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46(10), 1090-1113.
    From the abstract: "This study explored the development of a community of learners through a professional development program to improve teachers' views of nature of science (NOS) and teaching practice. The "Views of Nature of Science" questionnaire and interviews were used to assess teachers' conceptions of NOS three times over the course of the study. Notes and videotapes taken during workshops and classroom observations were used to track influence of the community of learners on classroom practice. The community of practice (CoP) was fostered through an intensive summer workshop, monthly school site workshops, and classroom support to aid teachers in incorporating new techniques and reflecting upon their learning and practice. We found that teachers became aware of their changes in views about NOS once they struggled with the concepts in their own teaching and discussed their struggles within the professional development community. The CoP on its own was not sufficient to change teacher's practice or knowledge, but it created a well-supported environment that facilitated teacher change when paired with NOS modeling and explicit reflection. Cases of three teachers are used to illustrate changes in views and teaching practice common to the teachers in this study. (Contains 6 tables and 1 figure.)"
  2. Cansoy, R., & Parlar, H. (2017). Examining the relationships between the level of schools for being professional learning communities and teacher professionalism. Malaysian Online Journal of Educational Sciences, 5(3), 13-27.
    From the abstract: "The objective of this study is to examine the relationships between the levels of schools for being professional learning communities and teacher professionalism based on teachers' perceptions. The participants were a total of 543 teachers working at elementary, middle and high schools in the EyĆ¼p District of Istanbul. The data were gathered through the "Professional Learning Community Scale" and the "Teacher Professionalism Scale". The results showed that the teachers' perceptions on schools becoming professional learning communities and teacher professionalism were above moderate level. There were positive and significant correlations between all dimensions regarding the levels of schools for being professional learning communities, and teacher professionalism. Besides, the only significant and positive predictor of teacher professionalism was found to be the dimension "collective learning and applications" of professional learning community scale."
  3. Richmond, G., & Manokore, V. (2011). Identifying elements critical for functional and sustainable professional learning communities. Science Education, 95(3), 543-570.
    From the abstract: "In this paper, we examined data collected as part of a 5-year project designed to foster reform-based urban science teaching through teachers' communities of inquiry. Drawing upon a distributed leadership framework, we analyzed teacher "talk" during professional learning community (PLC) meetings. This analysis yielded five elements: teacher learning and collaboration, community formation, confidence in knowledge of content and guided inquiry, concerns about the impact of accountability measures on teaching and learning, and sustainability of reform. Follow-up interviews with participants reinforced the importance of these elements. While accountability measures were found to have a significant impact on science teaching, participants were also able to use their PLC-based experiences to develop strategies to deal with such external constraints. Facilitation and leadership also play key roles in establishing and maintaining PLCs in this urban setting. Finally, we present a revised framework that incorporates the elements we identified to describe those local and systemic factors critical for successful implementation and influence of professional development efforts. (Contains 1 figure and 4 tables.)"
  4. Schaap, H., & de Bruijn, E. (2018). Elements affecting the development of professional learning communities in schools. Learning Environments Research, 21(1), 109-134.
    From the abstract: "This article focuses on the development of professional learning communities (PLCs), which are communities within schools, composed of voluntary participating teachers facilitated by school principals with a specific task to accomplish as part of a larger innovation project. Four PLCs were observed during 3 years by using questionnaires and participatory research. The questionnaires revealed that PLCs differed in their group characteristics, collective learning processes and outcomes. Through participatory research, we explored seven elements affecting the development of PLCs, namely, task perceptions, group composition, tensions between roles, beliefs about alignment, reflective dialogues, socialisation and ownership. Beliefs about alignment, ownership and socialisation had sufficient impact on the development of the PLCs. A case study including two contrasting PLCs indicated interrelations between task perceptions and ownership by members and between ownership and socialisation activities. Regarding implications, this research suggests to explicitly create and facilitate reflective dialogues and ownership over time for PLCs to flourish."
  5. Tam, A. C. F. (2015). The role of a professional learning community in teacher change: A perspective from beliefs and practices. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 21(1), 22-43.
    From the abstract: "This longitudinal study aimed to examine the role of a professional learning community (PLC) in changing teachers' beliefs and practices. Teachers of a Chinese department in a Hong Kong secondary school were interviewed and observed. The findings indicate that the features of a PLC-facilitating teacher change are development of a coherent structure, a collaborative culture, and effective learning activities. These help teachers to overcome initial difficulties and induce their motivation for transformation. Teacher change in five dimensions (curriculum, teaching, learning, roles of teachers, and learning to teach) and three patterns (change in practice but not in belief, change in belief but not in practice, change in practice and belief) were detected. It is argued that cultivating an effective PLC is significant to teacher development."
  6. Vescio, V., Ross, D., & Adams, A. (2008). A review of research on the impact of professional learning communities on teaching practice and student learning. Teaching and Teacher Education: An International Journal of Research and Studies, 24(1), 80-91.
    From the abstract: "After an overview of the characteristics of professional learning communities (PLCs), this manuscript presents a review of 10 American studies and one English study on the impact of PLCs on teaching practices and student learning. Although, few studies move beyond self-reports of positive impact, a small number of empirical studies explore the impact on teaching practice and student learning. The collective results of these studies suggest that well-developed PLCs have positive impact on both teaching practice and student achievement. Implications of this research and suggestions for next steps in the efforts to document the impact of PLCs on teaching and learning are included."
  7. Wan, S. W-Y. (2020). Unpacking the relationship between teachers' perceptions of professional learning communities and differentiated instruction practice. ECNU Review of Education, 3(4), 694-714.
    From the abstract: "Purpose: This exploratory study investigates the relationship between teachers' perceptions of professional learning communities (PLCs) and their differentiated instruction (DI) practice in a Hong Kong primary education context. Design/Approach/Methods: Three subsidized primary schools participated in the study. A total of 121 teachers completed surveys regarding their perceptions of PLC engagement and DI practice. Findings: Using principal component analysis, three dimensions of PLC engagement were identified: student learning, reflective dialogue, and shared and supportive leadership. Two distinctive PLC engagement profiles were generated based on cluster analysis: high PLC engagement and low PLC engagement. Teachers' PLC engagement profiles were correlated with their DI practices. Originality/Value: The findings have implications for fostering teacher engagement in PLCs. Increased teacher participation in PLCs has great potential for promoting the use of DI."
  8. Widodo, H. P., & Allamnakhrah, A. (2020). The impact of a blended professional learning community on teacher educators' professional identity: Towards sustainable teacher professional development. Journal of Education for Teaching: International Research and Pedagogy, 46(3) 408-410.
    From the abstract: "Drawing on a larger ethnographic study, this article reports a case study investigating the impact of a blended professional learning community (PLC) on teacher educators' changes in professional identity situated in initial teacher education (ITE) curriculum reform. Out of 200 teacher educators involved in the project under the Indonesian National Qualifications Framework (INQF) scheme, thirty of them were purposively recruited for this case study. Findings show that the participants could reconstruct their professional identity as curriculum makers as they engaged in the threeyear blended PLC programme. This empirical evidence suggests that a blended PLC could help teacher educators engage in sustained professional learning and play a role as curriculum makers in response to the national ITE curriculum reform."


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Professional learning communities, teachers' perceptions, effective professional development

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.