A Community of learners is a group of people who share their ideas, values and beliefs with each other and actively participate in learning together. It creates an environment in which teachers and students both can participate and enhance their knowledge to the subject which is discussed within the group. “The idea of communities of learning contrasts the models of learning that are based on one sided notions of learning that occurs through transmission of knowledge from experts or acquisition of knowledge by unexperienced learners or the others respectively in passive role” (Rogoff, 1994). Different members of the COL have different roles and responsibilities which change accordingly to the requirement and adapt them from being the leader to being led to facilitator, COL is based on three types of models of learning which are Adult-run, Child-led and Collaborative model.
Adult-run model is a theoretical notion which is based on ‘transmission theory’ in which a student learns the information from teacher to be able to gain knowledge and demonstrate their learning in the form of tests and examinations one by one so that the concept is clear to them and has been understood. Adults see themselves responsible for filling children up with knowledge and feel concerned with how to package the knowledge and educate children with it step by step and children are treated as receivers of a body of knowledge but not active participants in learning. Like In most classrooms, teachers sit or stand in front of the room dispensing “inert ideas” to his passive students, as if they were empty vessels to be filled (cited in Rogoff, 1996, p.391; Silberman, 1970).
Child-led model is based on assumptions that learning is a product of discovery of knowledge. Children are expected to learn and explore the new ideas and concepts by their own or engaging with their peers, they are free to learn the concept in their own ways and explore information differently which is put in adult world or told by their teacher. Teachers set-up a learning environment to guide children if the help is needed and avoid influencing their natural learning behavior so the participation is done by children in order to extend their knowledge and skills.
These two one-sided models are often viewed as different versions of one idea that treat learning from one sided. In Adult-run model, teachers have the control over the learning process, they are the active participants of the activity of learning as all the information and knowledge is provided by them to the children. Whereas, in child-led model, children are free to learn things in their own ways while interacting with the peers, they explore the knowledge by themselves and teachers don’t influence their learning with any interruption. These both models are the opposite extremes of a pendulum swing focused on ‘control’ and ‘freedom’.
Communities of learners is based on a different philosophy in which children learn through participating with adults in a collaborative manner. In this all participants are active, everyone has their own responsibility in the process of learning, they help each other and gain knowledge by communicating with each other. Children participate in the management of their own learning with a guidance of the process from their teachers. Students take responsibility to their own learning where they solve their problem by interacting with other students and participating in cooperative group discussions in which they represent and put across their own ideas and knowledge of the subject on their own understanding and teachers also help them while engaging in the interaction and supporting new ideas and perspectives (Rogoff, 1994).
Open Classrooms were introduced in many schools by group of parents and teachers called “co-opers” who wanted to start this new philosophy of community of learner model so children could indulge in this new culture at early age and explore the new concepts of this practice. Parents initial involvement caused confusion in the OC environment as they attempt to fit in this new practice and puzzle out the philosophy by participating in the discussions and same problem was faced by new teachers who joined the practice. They struggle to understand the new philosophy as they often happen to control the discussions rather than giving children opportunity to explore their ideas (Rogoff, 1996). Newcomers often faced difficulties in the starting while adapting to this new practice as they were raised in adult-run model which come as a cultural shock as they try to fit in and it took time for them to understand this new philosophy. Moreover, students who were brought up in adult-run model find it difficult to adjust in this new practice as they were taught in a specific manner, all the information and knowledge was provided to them by their teachers and these open class room culture is totally new to them as they have to take responsibility of their own learning and participate in it and share their ideas and viewpoints rather than sitting and just listening to teachers which is a whole new concept for them.
In my personal experience, I can totally relate to struggle which new comers faces as I have also been brought up in the adult-run model and moving to this new practice of learning was also a cultural shock for me as it involved participating in the discussions and sharing your ideas and point of view while interacting with other students and teachers and I was totally new to this concept of learning. It took time for me to adjust in this type of unfamiliar environment but day by day I was adapting to it and after every interaction I was more motivated in participating in the discussions as my concepts were getting clear with it and my knowledge increased by hearing other’s perspectives and ideas like in a professional dialogue. “By engaging in professional dialogue, a professional learning environment is created that allow every individual to explore their values, beliefs and practices in a way that goes beyond their perspectives” (Grey, 2011). A trusting environment was created to share our experiences and thoughts with others and mutual understanding to respect others perspective and with it came sense of belongingness and opportunity to learn (OTL) as everyone was given a chance to put forward their point of view and everyone was listening to each other’s ideas and thought as their perspective is created by their ‘prior knowledge’ and experiences and gather new information from each other.
This type of knowledge can be called as ‘distributed knowledge’ as teachers and other students are kind of a mediating devices which help in enhancing knowledge and skills. “When people use mediating devices, knowledge is distributed, some of it existing in their heads, some of it existing in the ways in which they can coordinate themselves with the tools they are using, and some of it existing in the tools themselves” and other people are also a form of tool for learners to gain knowledge (Gee, 2008).
Furthermore, these efforts of gaining knowledge with interaction and participating in discussions shows “mutual engagement” and accepting and understanding each other’s point of view describes “joint enterprise” in the team (Iyer & Reese, 2013).