PLC or a COP: which is better…

…there’s only one way to find out. FIGHT!

So a Professional Learning Community (PLC) needs shared values and vision, collective responsibility, collaboration, mutual trust and an inclusive membership. A Community of Practice (COP) needs a domain (common interest), a community (people to interact with) and a practice (something that you do together). I call it tom-ay– to, you call it tom-ah-to?

So let’s break this down point by point.

  • Both theories place emphasis on collective responsibility
  • Both theories place emphasis on dynamic knowledge creation
  • Both theories place emphasis on collaboration
  • PLC emphasises mutual respect. COP does not.
  • PLC emphasises an inclusive membership. COP does not.
  • COP emphasises a lack of reliance on formal structures. PLC does not.
  • PLC talks about shared values and vision. COP talks about a common interest. These are similar, but you can have one without the other.

So where does that leave us? PLCs are different from COPs because anybody can join one, but in order for the PLC to function it requires members to agree common values and vision and demonstrate mutual respect.

I guess the issue with PLCs from my point of view is that is this shared vision agreed in advance of their membership. If so, the stereotypical masonic/golf club mentality could come to the fore (i.e. You think like us? Welcome to the gang.). If not, how do you go about agreeing and sustaining a set of values and vision when members are free to join at any time. Perhaps implicit in the idea of a PLC is that there are always opportunities to have that discussion, so that ideas are tossed out, argued over and settled before they are presented to the world. In a sense the HE associations that grew out of special interest groups (Russell Group, 1994 groups etc.) are examples of this, although their membership is anything but inclusive.

So, perhaps the next step is to find a shining example of a PLC and see whether it fulfills all of the qualities outlined above. Any ideas?


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