The distance, diminished: an exploratory study of a fully online professional learning community in higher education

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faculty development , professional learning communities , PLCs , online PLCs , hybrid , contingent faculty , social-constructivism , constructivist , constructionist
Moser, Julie A.
Recently, professional learning communities (PLCs) have been advocated as a promising approach in higher education (Eaker & Sells, 2015) for faculty development that can improve student learning outcomes and help students graduate with demonstrable skills, yet the field is still lacking in research on this phenomenon within higher education (Blitz, 2013). This participant-observer single case study was conducted on a fully online PLC in higher education. Data analysis resulted in a case narrative that described key attributes of the online PLC inspired by a framework derived from literature on PLCs as well as emergent themes from interviews. The study explored how educational technologies are used to facilitate, sustain, collaborate, and share practice, educational leadership and facilitation roles, types of artifacts produced by members, and how members perceive the PLC's structure and impact on their teaching practice and student learning outcomes. The study also resulted in a rich case narrative description for readers to draw their own generalizations from, and it seeks to help fill the current void of literature and research on online PLCs in higher education. The study contributes two new definitions and points to potential paths for future development and study of a field devoted specifically to PLCs within higher education to ensure faculty development efforts embrace evidence-based practices.