Dynamic, Distributed, and Bounded Communities (Wilson & Ryder – 1996)

Another type of learning community, the dynamic learning community,[1] was described by Wilson and Ryder (1996; 1998). Similar in some ways to the communities of practice already described by Lave and Wenger, dynamic learning communities are conceived of as “decentralized learning groups” (B. Wilson & Ryder, 1996, p. 801) that “will tend to pop up between the cracks of established learning programs” (B. Wilson & Ryder, 1998, p. 2). Unlike communities of practice, distributed learning communities are formed with “a consensual goal to support each other in learning” (p. 2) rather than some other shared social context. Distributed learning communities are characterized by the following attributes (B. Wilson & Ryder, 1996, pp. 801-802):


  1. Distributed control
  2. Commitment to the generation and sharing of new knowledge
  3. Flexible and negotiated learning activities
  4. Autonomous community members
  5. High levels of dialogue, interaction, and collaboration
  6. A shared goal, problem, or project that brings a common focus and incentive to work together



More recently, Wilson and Ryder (2004) articulated another type of learning community that they referred to as the bounded community. Unlike the self-forming dynamic learning community, the bounded community is a community formed by a teacher or an instructor within a course-based learning environment. In a bounded learning community, “participants find themselves in a situation where” (p. 2)


  1. Participation is required in order to obtain a desired end
  2. They do not choose their classmates or instructor
  3. They must commit to a fixed length of time
  4. They must make an explicit effort to connect with others (by coming to school or connecting online)

(p. 2)


Wilson and Ryder gave three reasons to support the formation of such communities:


  1. Learning communities provide a social context for the material
  2. Students feel more connected within a community
  3. Learning communities can serve as a bridge between school and work environment

(p. 3)


While the concepts of dynamic, distributed, and bounded learning communities do not appear to be as well known as other ideas on social learning reviewed herein, I have chosen to include them for two reasons. First of all, they represent a fairly common practice I am seeing in American schools, both in K-12 and at the college level. Secondly, they share many similarities with Lave and Wenger’s theory of communities of practice. In fact, Wilson, Ludwig-Hardman, Thornam, and Dunlap described bounded communities as type of community of practice in which

  1. The major enterprise is intentional learning, completing required activities, and performing well on course assessments
  2. The group membership is based on course  enrollment and team assignment
  3. Resources are shared and interactions conducted under the guidance of an instructor

(B. G. Wilson et al., 2004, p. 4)

[1] In 1996 Wilson and Ryder use the term “dynamic ,” but switch to “distributed” in their 1998 web publication of essentially the same paper with some minor changes.

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