Dr. Judith M. Newman

Technology & Instruction

Distributed Learning Communities

The idea of learning communities has been emerging for some time as an alternative metaphor to traditional instruction. "What happens when groups of people gather together to provide mutual support for learning and performance? How would that work? Rather than being controlled by a teacher or an instructional designer, learners might "self-organize" into functioning communities with a general goal of supporting each other in their learning. That is to say, the function of guidance and control becomes distributed among group participants. Specific roles of group members are not assigned but rather emerge from the interaction of the whole." (Wilson & Ryder, http://carbon.cudenver.edu/%7Emryder/dlc.html)


  • Distributed control
  • Commitment to the generation and sharing of new knowledge
  • Flexible and negotiated learning activities
  • Autonomous community members
  • High levels of dialogue, interaction and collaboration
  • A shared goal, problem or project that brings a common focus and incentive to work together

How does it work? Wilson & Ryder describe the DLC Learning Process in the following way:

"Learning can happen in a variety of ways within a DLC; however, a pattern of mutual support will tend to emerge, outlined below. Each step is described in turn.

  • Articulate the learning need. This becomes the learning "problem" or goal.
  • Seek help in a group forum.
  • Engage in a help consultation.
  • Assess learning.
  • Share the solution with the group. Restate the problem and solution if necessary.
  • Archive the interaction or the restated solution for future reference.
  • Repeat this process, of any part, as necessary to support learning." http://carbon.cudenver.edu/%7Emryder/dlc.html

Both Martin Ryder and Brent Wilson have built extensive web resources for exploring the notion of Dynamic/Distributed Learning Communities. Ryder also has compiled useful resources on Virual Learning Communities.

Kevin Facemyer at Washington State University has also explored Distributed Learning Communities.