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



4 thoughts on “What’s the difference between CoP and PLC?”

  1. The truth is I enjoyed your post especially all of the real life examples and the cute comic, but I have no idea how to answer your question.

    I think that we will someday broaden CoP’s and PLC’s to our neighborhoods, towns, cities,ect. But we have to make the first steps. These ideas have been on the market for some time now, but they have finally begun to catch on at schools and business. From here it is just a matter of time before these ideas are passed on to other models. I think it will benefit more people, because being open, without a hidden agenda, and lots of communication on specific visions will only lead to more success.

  2. As the saying goes, “It takes a village.” Many local governments and various entities operate under a structure similar to CoPs. To take the idea even further, families can function using some of the same principles. One obstacle I see is the point of focus becoming too narrow. In smaller settings, the community may lose sight of the individual, which may be counter-productive. Tweak an idea to death and it eventually dies. I always say, “The key to happiness is organization.” At any level, aspects of both PLCs and CoPs are applicable.

  3. I’d like to add how this will affect my learning plan. As a new teacher, I will join the community of established ESL teachers online. There are many websites available. The common goal is to travel to a different country, teach others English, and earn a decent living. These established instructors seem to be willing to share lesson plans and suggestions for success in the classroom and in the chosen country/culture.

    I’m looking forward to developing my first lesson which will involve teaching adults. We will practice vocabulary to plan a shopping trip and menu for a potluck at the school. The idea is to focus on pictures of food and the corresponding names. We will work together to learn the background of ethnic foods and how they have become integral to American culture. Once the menu is planned, we will develop our shopping lists and practice reading food labels. We’ll buy the food items, prepare them individually and then share the food and stories about how the dishes were prepared. The outcomes should be measurable with observation, testing, and the use of a learning log.

    As a plus, I’ll get to taste some amazing new food dishes!

  4. Your question evokes and brings forth a highly debatable idea. Some could point to the idea of uniformity at a more expansive level will take away from the individuality that is the foundation of our country. However, I’m sure your question wasn’t posed in the sense of creating a utopian society where everyone identically teaches the same ways of living.

    I do, however, find solace in the idea of sharing ideas, cultures, and customs to becoming more well-rounded individuals and I am sure that is what you had in mind with your question. I have always been one to embrace other cultures. I live life with a theory that nothing I ever encounter is “weird”. The word “weird” to me is a fraudulent vail placed over things we don’t understand. There are no quantitative measurements to describe weird and whats weird to one culture, is complete normal in another. It truly is all about the perspective of that individual based on the environment they were raised. I love the idea of being able to share all these ways of life and truly embrace them, but I feel as if too many people will be stubborn to their own ways. Hopefully, these stubborn walls can be broken down and ideas such as yours can come to fruition allowing everyone to share and embrace new suggestions!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s