IN THE ORIGINAL ENGLISH LANGUAGE SURROUNDINGS
In the last few years, particularly in the United States, a marked awareness of the importance and role of social interactions has surfaced in the process of acquiring a variety of competencies the need to train and get people used to learning together naturally ensued. This double awareness is clearly reflected in the learning environment through the extensive use of new terms or traditional terms enriched with broader meanings. Here are some examples:
But in addition to the above-mentioned terms, there is one, namely "learning community", which seems to have a special significance as it makes a reference to a large number of concepts somewhat related to a central context pregnant with a gathering force towards a common goal (finality).
Figure 1 which follows, while classifying the terms according to their mutual affinities, is a first attempt at suggesting the use of the expression "learning community" in the French education world to meet with and to match the same concept so largely used by the North American English surroundings. We are now aware that some of the terms widely used make reference on the one hand to structural and organizational entities, while on the other hand, they describe the processus involved by the formation of the community.
DIMENSIONS COMMUNITIES LEARNING
A STRUCTURE OR AN ORGANIZATION
Classroom as community
School as community
Community of learners
Community of inquiry
Community of practice
DIMENSIONS COMMUNITIES LEARNING A PROCESS
IN THE FRENCH LANGUAGE SURROUNDINGS
In French, when one wants to describe, in an education context, the work done by a group of persons working together towards a common task or goal, "work as a team", "form a team" or "make a team" are the terms used. Sometimes, in some closely related sense, the term "group" (working...study.... and research....) is equally used. From time to time, words such as "circle", "centre", "workshop", "collectivity" or terms such as "collaboration", "participation", "cooperation" (with other persons), in addition to variations of those terms (collaborator, coparticipant, cooperative, etc) equally come to mind. However, as a general rule, none of those references or none of those terms carry, with the same clarity, the concept of the word "team": the type of participation to a common effort on which we want to center one's attention.
The term "community" as used in the expression "learning community" wants to underline a reality which is meant to be more global and more substantive than the concept brought forward by the term "team". In so doing, "community" wants to encompass not only an organized gathering which might include many levels of complexity (team, class, school, network of classes, etc.) but also a process of change through which that gathering, through a succession of training and learning events, is involved in a continuous transformation. Even if the term "community" is not yet used as often as it is in English, particularly in the school and pedagogical environments, it is extremely difficult to find a more adequate term. Combined with the term "learning" -- a "learning community" -- the word "community" in fact, delineates its meaning more adequately. As a matter of fact, to the extent that the "learning community" could constitute the central pivotal point of an innovative current of thoughts, its pertinence will now depend as much on the content" "of a real and effective educational activity" than the former meanings associated with the word.
Figure 2 which follows is now making an attempt to classify along the lines already used in Figure 1, but this time, with terms which, in French, put in evidence from various angles, the concept of "learning community".
DIMENSIONS COMMUNITIES LEARNING A STRUCTURE OR AN ORGANIZATION
Working team, project team, etc.
Study group, research group, etc.
Workshop, think-tank, etc.
DIMENSIONS COMMUNITIES LEARNING A PROCESS
Learning together or with a team.
Learning while sharing ideas or information with other persons
Learning in collaboration or in cooperation with other persons
Acting as a co-participant within a team or a group
Having a cooperative frame of mind
If the terms of Figure 2, as applied to a school and pedagogical context, do not appear on the whole, to have as precise and rich a sense as those appearing in Figure 1, one of the reasons might be that the number of actual experiments with a "learning community" in the French Quebec schools, is not as large as that taking place in the English communities. Furthermore, the volume of thoroughly digested experiments has not yet provided the number of opportunities for a feedback as regards the identification of various aspects or components. Sometimes, we are simply tempted to translate some of the terms making up Figure 1 by ""school as a community" , "cooperative community", "learning organization" or "collective learning". In doing so however, one must be aware that we are not automatically recognizing for these terms, the sense already given by the English community and which are based on a long tradition supported by systematic feedbacks as regards their implementation and results. The power and the pertinence of the terms used to describe the realities of a given milieu -- particularly as they are found in the field of education -- are closely related in the meantime, to the existence of those realities and the interrelation between the given reality (or "degree of existence" of that reality) and the chosen terms.
For a more extensive treatment of various pertinent concepts, see "Learning Community: A Definition".
December 23 1998