COPs, PLN, and Connectivism: A Creative Expression

Nonlinguistic representations can facilitate deep learning of a concept. In the 2nd module of EdTech 543, I explored communities of practice, personal learning networks, and connectivism. These are related but different concepts. The graphic below represents a simplified view of how I learn from people and resources. I’ve tried to represent how personal learning networks (PLN), communities of practice (COP) and connectivism relate  to each other.


Communities of practice are defined as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Wenger-Trayner, 2015). They have three important characteristics. There is a shared domain of interest to which the COP is committed and has special competence in. The community shares and learns from each other. The goal is to develop and cultivate a shared practice which results in resources, knowledge, tools, processes, etc. COPs can be sustained or transient depending on their goals.  I am a member of several COPs in diverse domains of interest that have no overlap (my inpatient internal medicine ward team, a prostate cancer screening guideline panel, my classmates in EdTech 543, for example). COPs are indicated by the multicolored groups of people in the above diagram.

Connectivism may or may not be a unique learning theory. Some view it as unique while others consider it a branch of social  constructivism. As learning theories often do, it integrates other principles including those of chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories (Siemens, 2004). Knowledge is not contained in any one individual but is distributed across a linked network of  nodes. Each node is a resource or knowledge source. Learning is the “construction and traversing of the network” (Downes, 2007).  What gives this theory some validity to me is the observation of Landauer and Dumais (1997) that people have much more knowledge than appears present in the information to which they have been exposed. We each have small amounts of knowledge that gets amplified when we network. When I first read about connectivism I realized this model really fits patient care well. As physicians, we can never know everything about every disease or have the technical abilities to perform every procedure. So we consult other specialties (the nodes) to provide information. It is the network that cares for the patient.  In the above diagram, connectivism is indicated by the lines between me and the COPs, individuals, and the tools I use for learning (web, video, social media, and print materials). Some of these connections are very strong and I use them a lot (darker lines). Some are weaker and don’t get used as much (lighter or dotted lines). Some connections occur in person (line emanates directly  from me) and some are mediated via technology (lines emanating from devices). Some connections are very close geoprahically and some are long distance. Some connections are indirect and are mediated through a person I am directly connected with. Some of my connections are also connected to others in my network and to some of the COPs I am a member of. Many of my connections are independent of each other.

I have been cultivating my personal learning network for a few years. A PLN is a group of individuals you connect to in order to learn from and with, collaborate with or be inspired by. PLNs are intentional and as such go beyond friendship.  They are usually mediated via social media. I mainly use Twitter, blogs, and various Diigo groups. A PLN differs from a COP because COPs are made up of individuals with a shared domain and are designed to produce a product. PLNs are often composed of people from various domains. For example, my PLN contains educators, instructional designers, EBM experts, clinical experts, medical journals, and philosophers. I use my PLN to learn about lots of things.  PLNs are designed for personal needs while COPs are usually designed for corporate needs (I use corporate as an inclusive term. It could be a corporation or a school or a garden club, for example.). The COPs I’m a member of are designed to accomplish very specific tasks (for example, develop a prostate cancer screening guideline).

How are these related?  PLNs and COPs are tools or ways in which we can work together to learn, create products, and/or improve processes. Connectivism helps explain how and why we connect and learn within PLNs and COPs.

Now it’s your turn. How do you think these concepts are related? Is my diagram a reasonable representation of these concepts? How could I improve it?


Downes, S (2007). Msg. 30, Re: What connectivism is. Connectivism Conference: University of Manitoba.  Message posted to

Jackson, N. (2015, May 14). Seek, sense, share: Understanding the flow of information through a personal learning network [Web log post]. Retreived from

Landauer, T. K., Dumais, S. T. (1997). A solution to plato’s problem: The latent semantic analysis theory of acquisition, induction and representation of knowledge. Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from:
Wenger, E. and Wenger-Trayner, B.(2015). Introduction to communities of practice: A brief overview of the concept and its uses. Retrieved from:

One thought on “COPs, PLN, and Connectivism: A Creative Expression

  1. Pingback: Losing Control | 21st Century Introspective

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