Collaborative Learning Communities – the concept (pt 1 in a series)

The concept of the collaborative learning community follows key principles while remaining unique to any given organisation. Here we examine these principles.

All of the speakers presenting case studies at the Olevi International Conference  described how they were on a learning journey in which working with Olevi was a key component.  In a number of my recent presentations I have attempted to conceptualise the destination of their journey as the creation of a collaborative learning community.  These communities provide a high quality education for their students. In performance terms, their students’ results are in the top 25 per cent of their comparative schools and the variation of the performance within the school is low. In this and following blogs, l will describe these high performing collaborative learning communities, the journey that schools and learning communities make to get there, some of the aspects of the nature of their connectivity and how the work is effectively recorded. 

A definition

A collaborative learning community (CLC) can vary in size from a small group of colleagues to a large organisation or group of organisations.  In the field of education, this could range from a group of teachers to the entire staff of a school and beyond that to a group of schools learning alongside a university, an industrial partner or a charity.  Examples of these larger VCLCs are to be found among the hubs of Challenge Partners and Challenge Partners as a whole. Dame Sue John’s description of the West London Challenge Partners hub in School networks, peer accountability and the brokerage of knowledge and expertise’ is a good case study of the realisation of this concept.  

CLCs are high perfoming because they are committed to providing for all of their students an education that represents the wisdom of the worldwide education community.  They collaborate to achieve their collective goal, which is self-determined and collectively owned.  They remorselessly and systematically learn how to do this from and with each other. Often in the early days of the communities, development membership is temporal, but as moral capital grows more permanent, structures are formed such as the Teaching Schools and the Olevi Alliances and Challenge Partners.

The sources of knowledge 

They access their wisdom and knowledge from three sources – relevant research, best practice and effective emerging innovation.

Many of the schools in Challenge Partners use the findings provided by the Education Endowment Fund as their main source of relevant research.  They also access knowledge from more traditional sources such as the IOE/UCL and research journals. 

Best practice is identified in the English context by reference to Ofsted and nationally published examination results, in Quebec by the Ministry of Education and other sources such as the Fraser Report and internationally by PISA. This is at a broad level. In practice we have found that these sources alone are not sufficient and need to be triangulated against some form of peer judgement.

The effective emerging innovation is when best practice, often using relevant research, is shaped in a way that it can be accessed by the wider community. Examples of this would be the Challenge Partners Peer Review (QAR), the Olevi suite of programmes for improving teaching and learning and the Western Quebec School Board’s Teacher Improvement Programme (TIP).

It is interesting to note that the emergence of knowledge in these communities tends to follow a sequence. As practitioners grapple to solve problems in real time, they will often draw on best practice while effective solutions are then identified and evidenced by research.  If these solutions are considered appropriate, they are adapted and adopted into a learning programme to be shared across the community. Thus, for those who wish to remain in the forefront of understanding what works, knowing what their outstanding peers are trying to resolve is of more value than waiting for a future research paper.  Thus they are willing to collaborate closely with their peers.

The areas of knowledge

We are using the CLC to access three areas of knowledge – teaching and learning, leadership and collaborative learning.  We are addressing the questions – 

The Olevi suit of programmes contains the same components:| Teaching and Learning; Leadership; and coaching replacing collaborative learning.  Coaching is the highest order learning activity in this conceptualisation of a collaborative learning community.


These are the broad brush strokes of the conceptualisation of the destination these learning communities are striving to reach as they seek to provide an education for their students