What’s the difference between CoP and PLC?

Community of Practice (CoP) is defined by Etienne Wenger (n.d.) “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”.   They share a craft or profession and there will usually be experts .   This is particularly relevant in the workplace as co-workers teach and learn from each other.  In trades, apprenticeships are the CoP.  The members of a Community of Practice share experience and best practices with each other. 

In education, there are three dimensions mentioned:

  1. Internal:  Finding ways to “organize educational experiences that ground school learning in practice through participation in communities around subject matters”.
  2. External:  Finding the connections of student experiences to practice and life outside school
  3. Lifetime learning:  Organized CoP’s which focus on topics of continuing interest.

The Community of Practice may also share informal learning such as happens in my workplace daily.

For example, while reviewing photographs of a damaged property, it was unclear as to what may have caused the damage.  There was an impromptu gathering at the one desk while we discussed the loss.  Because we were not able to come to consensus, we began looking at ways to find the answer.  One person suggested going online to search news articles.  Another suggested calling the demolition company to find out what their assignment was.  This was a situation involving basic technology, but has the potential to use more advanced technology. 

Another example is the electric lineman apprenticeship program.  My daughter began as a meter reader but wanted to become a lineman.  She took formal classes and was accepted into the apprenticeship program.  This was a very limited Community of Practice with peer-to-peer learning and.  As the students became more proficient, they also became the teachers.   


Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) seem to primarily refer to “a shared vision or running a school in which everyone can make a contribution, and staff are encouraged to collectively undertake activities and reflection in order to constantly improve their students’ performance”  (Cranston, 2011). 

Administrators, teachers, and staff all work together, with the students’ best interests in mind by “researching best practices and pursuing data to bolster decision making Cranston (2011)

The six attributes of PLC according to Eaker, DuFour and DuFour (2002):

  1. Shared mission, vision, values
  2. Collaborative teams
  3. Collective inquiry
  4. Action orientation and experimentation
  5. Continuous improvement
  6. Results orientation

These are especially important in business. 

Bill Hall, in a recent blog, gave the example of slogans that work because they epitomize the PLC of the organization.  Apple’s “Think Different” was an early slogan which “underscores the importance of breaking with tradition…” (2014). Apple continues to use and develop technology by allowing its employees to put the attributes to work.

 Both involve community and wanting the best for the members.  What if we could broaden the scope of PRACTICE and PROFESSIONAL LEARNING to involve neighborhoods, towns, states, and countries?  

Working together …Image



Adams, C. (2009). The power of collaboration. Instructor, 119(1), 28-31.

Eaker, R., DuFour, R.,  & DuFour, R. (2002). Getting started:  Reculturing schools to become professional learning communities.  Bloominton, IN: National Educational Service

Cranston, J. (2011). Relational trust: The glue that binds a professional learning community  . [Article]. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 57(1), 59-72. Retrieved from    https://post.blackboard.com/bbcswebdav/courses/EDU520.901238026230/Documents/Relational%20Trust_The%20Glue%20that%20Binds%20a%20Professional%20Learning%20Community.pdf

Hall, B. (2014, March 18). PLC Lessons learned from the corporate world.  Retrieved from http://www.allthingsplc.info/blog/view/plc-lessons-learned-from-the-corporate-world/242

Wenger, E. (n.d.).  Communities of practice: A brief introduction.  [Website].  Retrieved from http://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/06-Brieft-introduction-to-communities-of-practice.pdf