Though there are differences, you will often find the terms Learning Community, Learning Circle and Community of Practice used interchangeably. They are all groups of individuals who learn from each other, and with each other, on an ongoing basis with the goal of improving their work.
Like any network of people, communities of practice are generally self-organized by people who share common work practice. As with the other labels, any of these relationship groupings have a desire to share what they know, support one another, and create new knowledge for their field of practice.
But communities of practice (CoP) differ from networks in that they are intended to be "communities" in which people make a commitment to be there for each other. They should participate not just for their own needs, but to serve the needs of others.
A CoP is very "open source" with a commitment to advance the field of practice and to make their resources and knowledge available to anyone, especially those doing related work.
A learning circle is a highly interactive, participatory structure for organizing group work. The goal is to build, share, and express knowledge though a process of open dialogue and deep reflection around issues or problems with a focus on a shared outcome.
Online learning circles take advantage of social networking tools to manage collaborative work over distances following a timeline from the open to close of the circle. Learning circles usually have a final project or goal which collects the shared knowledge generated during the interactions. Learning circles are a way to organize learning in global projects. They are also being used in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
But again, there is crossover with these terms. I have even seen articles about "Creating a Community of Practice Using Learning Circles"
Almost anyone can facilitate a learning circle, whether it is a single learning circle in your home or multiple circles across a an organization like a university or library system.
- A Handbook for starting a Learning Circle - from P2PU.org
- Primary, Middle and Secondary School Learning Circles to promote Global Education
- Professional Development Learning Circles for Teachers at IEARN
- The Global Conversation - A Cross University Course for Study Abroad Program
- Action Research Learning Circles at Pepperdine University Graduate School
- Learning Circles for Researchers by American Evaluation Association