Action Learning Sets and Communities of Practice

Calls for COED members to form new community groups, or to join existing ones, are sent out through the COED Listserv. If you have an idea for a group that you think would appeal to the COED community and is not on this list, feel free to contact the COED Executive.

On this page:


Action Learning Sets (ActLS)

What are Action Learning Sets?

…a continuous process of learning and reflection that happens with the support of a group or ‘set’ of colleagues, working on real issues, with the intention of getting things done. The voluntary participants in the group or ‘set’ learn with and from each other and take forward an important issue with support of the other members of the set.

McGill & Brockbank (2004)


Action learning sets are small structured groups that connect at regular intervals to discuss an area of common interest. During each session, participants each take turns in discussing questions, challenges or problems with their groups to develop solutions in a supportive environment. Participants support each other in finding solutions to what might otherwise seem intractable problems while at the same time building community using a sustainable approach. Participation in an action learning set provides the time and space to attend to the relationship between reflection and learning.

Action Learning Sets have been used as an effective tool for professional development across various sectors and disciplines. In COED, Action Learning Sets have been created along shared areas of interest. By combining groups of COED members in different roles or stages of their careers, the Action Learning Sets offer an effective tool for networking and mentorship.

How does it work?

  • A set is a dedicated and intentional space for members to engage in action learning.
  • A typical set cycle is over a one-year period
  • Intervals of one month are typical between set meetings
  • Members take turns focusing their support on one person at a time
  • The time within each set is distributed evenly among members
  • When not presenting members are actively engaged in listening and supporting the presenter

To learn more about the process, the short guide PDF by the Good and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations provides a helpful overview.

Active COED Action Learning Sets

  • Access and Accessibility in Educational Development (accepting new members in Fall 2022, please contact Ameera Ali and Lisa Aikman)
  • Experiential Education (accepting new members in Fall 2022, please contact Lindita Prendi)
  • Graduate Student Development

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Communities of Practice (CoPs)

What are Communities of Practice?

Communities of practice are 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…. The term community of practice was coined to refer to the community that acts as a living curriculum.

Wenger-Trayner (2015)


Communities of practice can be large or small, formal or informal, novice or expert (or both!). What characterizes a community of practice is a common domain, community, and practice that unites its members in social learning. Community members are united by a shared domain of interest, competence, and commitment, which drives them to connect with one another through shared activities, discussions, and knowledge-building. They are actual practitioners in their shared domain, and the community that they build together informs and influences their practice. Communities of Practice can function in a variety of ways, from helping with everyday work to sharing best practices, from stewarding knowledge and resources to creating innovation in practice.

Within COED, our largest community of practice is the Curriculum CoP, which emerged organically from an earlier Curriculum Working Group. Additional communities of practice have been created along shared lines of interest by groups who feel their members benefit from a different structure than that of the Action Learning Sets.

How does it work?

Communities of practice can be more flexible and varied in their structures and logistics than Action Learning Sets typically are. To learn more about the range of possibilities, the Wenger-Trayner website provides a helpful FAQ.

Active COED Communities of Practice

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Communities of Inquiry (CoIs)

What are Communities of Inquiry?

An educational community of inquiry is a group of individuals who collaboratively engage in purposeful critical discourse and reflection to construct personal meaning and confirm mutual understanding. The Community of Inquiry theoretical framework represents a process of creating a deep and meaningful (collaborative-constructivist) learning experience through the development of three interdependent elements – social, cognitive, and teaching presence.

Garrison (2016)


Communities of inquiry draw on three distinct elements — social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence — of their members to collaboratively engage in a learning experience that emphasizes an empirical inquiry approach to knowledge construction. While there may be some overlap with the characteristics of a community of practice, broadly speaking communities of inquiry are less shaped by a shared context of practice, and more directed by a shared conceptual inquiry into a particular topic or “problem”.

The CoI website by Drs. Randy Garrison, Marti Cleveland-Innes, and Norm Vaughan provides more depth about the history and theory behind the community of inquiry model.

Active COED Communities of Inquiry

  • Leadership in Educational Development

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