What is a Professional Learning Community (PLC)?

A professional learning community is made up of a group of practitioners who, while sharing a common concern or question, seek to deepen their understanding of a given topic by learning together as they pursue their individual work. PLCs are also known by other names, such as communities of practice or learning networks.

These PLCs are based on the notion that peers exchange knowledge, acquire skills and change their practice in and through social relationships (1). Learning communities are distinct from other learning structures, and while learning communities themselves can take many forms, they are defined by three primary characteristics.


Participants learn in action while grappling with real-life questions; their participation complements their day-to-day work and responsibilities. Learning communities create opportunities for participants to apply what they are learning. They enable participants to draw from current and past experiences.


Participants learn together, generating collective wisdom as a group; reliant primarily on peer exchange and the assumption that peers have something valuable to offer each other, learning communities are focused on combining, codifying and spreading the knowledge the group has generated from being together. This stands in contrast to exchanging learning each person could have arrived at on his or her own.


Participants learn on an ongoing basis and over time.

(1) Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

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