Setting up a Learning Community within, and for a professional organizations by using the Professional Learning Community Framework (PLCF).

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Theoretical framework

A professional learning community is a learning community within an organization. It can be concentrated on a single subject or several. It can be within a single organization or be across several organizations.

The road towards setting up a professional learning community varies per organization. The Professional Learning Community Framework (PLCF) provides the tools to help set up and establish your own Professional Learning Community.

The Professional Learning Community Framework (PLCF)

The Professional Learning Community Framework consists of several cycles. These are called the professional learning community cycles (PLCC). These PLCC can be repeatedly executed to ensure the update of a certain practice, knowledge, or skill with an organization. Various executed cycles are addressed as a routine. Each cycle consists out of several (cycle) stages, which again includes certain actions that can be executed per cycle stage.

The various cycles enable a community of practice within an organization. Each cycle targets certain roles which have been either specifically or organically selected to be focused on in a particular cycle. From here on forward, we will refer to this as the ‘practice’.  

                                                                                 PLCF 

Figure 1 The Professional Learning Community Framework (PLCF)

By visualizing these roles (including the number of professionals per role) you will start to create a pyramid-like figure. This is called the Champion Pyramid as this pyramid leverages a pull effect which is primarily driven by the role of champions described in it.

Going through the cycle stages and executing the related action corresponding to each role is what will help you to expand your community. In doing so, it will nurture the Champions Pyramid by continuously expanding on and growing the pyramid to encourage professionals to move up in the pyramid. This will ultimately increase the level of understanding of the chosen practice (or skill) to be included in the PLCC.

The framework should be started at whichever point in the pyramid best suits the organization’s learning goals (or chosen PLCC). Not all stages are required in each PLCC scenario. Basically, it’s up to each organization on where and how to start.

For example, a short routine may only cover 2 cycles (if that is what the organization wishes) and may begin at the final cycle (#6). The second routine might then jump to Educate and Credit (#4). Again, it is really up to the organization to decide what is best for them. Most important to remember is that continuous practice and execution ultimately leads towards growth in learning.

On one hand, the aim is to execute the above framework while at the same time establishing a life-long-developing (LLD) culture within the organization. By doing so, it will also help employees figure out how to apply a certain skill (set) or practice individually and professionally. 

Life-Long Developing (LLD)

A life-long-developing (LLD) culture is a culture where an organization or enterprise establishes continuous development of itself and its professionals. An LLD culture does have a broader scope beyond merely learning. It is all about developing, improving, and learning also about various practices that are possible. Helping individuals to not only learn but also to develop themselves is the main goal. An established LLD culture does however mean that all hierarchical layers of the organization are willing and aware of how to apply this life-long-developing mentality.

As a result, building up an LLD culture properly means that all these hierarchical layers need to be convinced and be open towards this type of culture within their organization. 

Often this means dealing with resistance from employees or managers who claim, ‘We have always worked in this manner’. Certain professionals will need to be convinced of the importance and benefit of life-long-developing – for both them and their organization. [1]

Understanding the importance of investing in yourself and in your development is key, as well as realizing what it may mean if you don’t. Key to this is cultivating the inner motivation to try and grow as a person and professional.

Setting up a LLD culture can be done in various ways, but always begins with being open to trying new things and new ways of working. Often it’s a question of trial and error until your ultimate goal has been achieved. For example, improving your resume, learning a new skill, or earning a certification.

Even though a life-long-developing (LLD) culture is of great value and importance, it does not mean that a learning community is in place.

[Industry stock performance vs skill proficiency.

Show a correlation of 43% in stock return towards industries with higher educated talent.

In comparison, a fast-growing booking.com has 10.8% listed learning (L&D) professionals out of their total workforce as listed via LinkedIn. Where an industry comparable company as Marriott International has only 2,5%.]

[1] The Coursera skills Repost 2020

Community of Practice

In theory, large corporations are capable of sending their entire organization to commercial training to learn a particular practice. Sometimes, this is less feasible for smaller companies and even for large companies where other constraints to this approach (e.g. cost and efficiency) may exist.

Another effective practice is to create a natural pull factor. Where for example, a single employee engages one or preferably several colleagues – or other engaged professionals – to become involved in the practice. Once these colleagues convince others, a chain reaction will start. This effect is what one should be aiming for. A more natural flow and learning experience will be created as a result.

Community of Practice
Visualization of a growing Community of Practice

To establish such a chain reaction, you need to facilitate its growth. In general, it generates less resistance as employees are stimulated to change thanks to their inner motivation; and not due to extrinsic motivation.

We will call this the community of practice. Where professionals motivate other professionals to learn from each other and in turn are stimulated to work on their own personal development.

The Professional Learning Community Cycles
There are several approaches, or entry levels to set up a Professional Learning Community. In general, six cycle stages can be identified:

  • Stakeholders Buy-In
  • Resource Management
  • Ambassadorship
  • Educate and Credit
  • Practice
  • Learn

The image to the right illustrates the professional learning community cycles (PLCC).

Figure 2 PLCC stages

The point at which an organization wishes to enter the routine varies from organization to organization. For example,

  • Top-down: a stakeholder in the role of director or CEO could outsource training to an independent third party to have their employees educated or trained.
  • Bottom-up: several employees within an organization can be practicing a certain skill or practice. Where its usage can easily spread within the organization and can become common practice within that organization.

A number of activities can be executed that nurture a learning community. Other accelerators can also speed up the growth trajectory of a learning community. For example, establishing a life-long-development culture and a Champion Pyramid.

Champion Pyramid

As mentioned above, we refer to a piece of knowledge that can or should be developed in this context ‘the practice’. This can be a certain skill set, a single skill, and piece of knowledge, a specific method, a group of frameworks, a standard, or a combination of all of these.

To establish the previously mentioned community of practice, you will need to assign several roles. NOTE: depending on the size of the company the number of various roles increases. Ultimately creating a pyramid form. As the most important role is that of the champion(s), we call this the Champion Pyramid. Role in the Champion Pyramid include:

  • Coaches – you need a person who is coaching the uptake and making sure the community of practice keeps growing.

  • Champions – professionals who know a lot about the practice that’s being learned, and also know how to apply it within the organization and who are motivated to advocate this to others.

  • Practitioners – actively working professionals with the practice.
Figure 3 PLC Champion pyramid

Participants – professionals that don’t fully work with the practice but do need to have an understanding of what it is since they occasionally work with it or work with professionals that leveraged the practice.

Nurturing the roles and executing the cycle stages will increase the level of understanding regarding the practice and will therefore encourage that professional to move up in their role as defined within the Champion Pyramid. 

PLC Cycles in the Champion Pyramid

The various PLC cycle stages can be hierarchically viewed against the Champion Pyramid. This order is not necessarily the required approach or taken approach towards setting up a PLC though. We will go more in-depth into this in the next paragraph (Cycles and Routines).

The first two stages, (1) Stakeholder Buy-In and (2) Resource Management both are executed before the actual learning starts. And actually, only in the case of a top-down approach. Often an initiative starts at the (3) Ambassador or (4) Practice stage

The (3) Ambassadorship, (4) Educate and Credit, (5) Practice, and (6) Learn stages can be matched with a direct hierarchical level of in the Champion Pyramid. Its roles are visualized in the Figure 4 PLCC pyramid hierarchy.

The match between the role and cycle stage and its actions is deliberate since the detail of a certain action enables the community in practice. Which in turn facilitates the learning and strengthening, and with it the growth of the Champion Pyramid.

 

Figure 4 PLCC pyramid hierarchy

This also promotes the LLD to start to come into effect, specifically regarding the practice so it can be picked up in an effective manner . There is no one-way-fits-all approach towards getting a practice to be taken up within an organization, and – once again – it also varies per organization.

Cycles and Routines

As previously stated, it’s not required to directly start with a full cycle, nor to start at the first cycle stage (1) Stakeholder Buy-In. The cycles should be repeated, and in each cycle, you can grow the number of stages and determine what stage is best to be included. This means that you start to create a routine of cycles that can be executed  periodically.

Where to start your first cycle depends on your existing community of practice and the roles you have already been able to define in your Champion Pyramid. A person may need to execute various roles depending on the size of your organization – and be even responsible for the execution of the various stages.

Here we describe three-set routines that fit with specific scenarios to illustrate which cycles can be executed per routine.

Chronicle / Top Down

Often, this concerns the larger organizations with two hundred or more employees. Even until the tens- or hundreds- or thousands of employees can leverage this approach, and usually do so. The professional learning community cycles (PLCC) are in this case usually applied top-down in chronological order of the PLCC.  

First though, Stakeholders Buy-in (1).  In this case, upper management decides that the above-named practice needs to be implemented within the enterprise. Such make-shifts within the enterprise are sometimes paired with reorganizations and change management activities and the Vice President of HR or Learning and Development (L&D) will orchestrate this and command the relevant Resource management activities  to be executed. A subject matter expert will be chosen internally and assigned to the role of Ambassador. 

Internal or external training will be facilitated and enable the Educate and Credit stage. In such a manner, variant training or e-learning will be facilitated through the internal Learning Management System (LMS) enabling all organizations to enter the Practice stage. The tooling and company practice will be implemented for the remainder of the participants in the learning stage so that everyone will be confronted with the practice. This top-down implementation is very common practice with larger banks or large consultancy firms. This cycle will be re-executed time and time again for different practices.

Figure 5 PLCC Top-down / Chronical approach

As visualized via the image above. The first cycles may be large and take up a lot of time, since it may  include a vast number of cycle stages and therefore involved the professionals from that cycle stage in the various activity. In the second cycle, upper management might be less involved, but L&D might ensure proper execution and help to facilitate. Following cycles, number three four, and thereafter may consist only of the participating roles of the practitioner community, growing the Champion Pyramid.  

International / Bottom-up

A natural way to initiate a PLCC, which works great for middle and smaller-sized companies (30 to 250 employees), is when a knowledge owner starts to apply a practice within an organization. He acts as the Ambassador and offers to gather a few champions around himself which in time starts to create the Champion Pyramid. He motivates others and includes them in the practice and shows them the benefits of the practice and provides them the vision and tools to start applying and practicing the practice. Other colleagues will naturally be confronted with this new practice and learn to see it less as a threat compared to the forced change from upper management.

In this manner, the first cycle (see illustration via figure five) will be executed. And a similar cycle will nurture and continue to expand the Champion Pyramid and practitioner community. Once the Champion Pyramid is growing and is in the Ambassadors stage, the ambassador or coach who leads the PLCC may determine that the champions need a higher level of understanding, and Education and Credit are then required.
The Ambassador is capable of arranging the first requirement to instigate this. However, in the next and second cycle, it will involve the Resource Management stage or Stakeholder Buy-In stage. So, the Resource Management stage can better facilitate the Educate and Credit stage. In this manner, the Champion Pyramid keeps growing naturally with each cycle. This internal driving approach, which creates learning change. Is driven from the bottom-up in the organization. 

Evolving from an internal to chronicle routine

In time this approach can even evolve into a chronological approach when all stages are applied in

Figure 6 PLCC International / Bottom-up
Figure 6 PLCC International / Bottom-up

full. For example, a large enterprise (250+ employees) will often have this PLCC approach. It starts with a smaller practitioner community. While it grows, it will reach more roles per PLCC pyramid hierarchy levels and once approved by upper management will in time go into a chronological approach.

Incidental

Another routine can be incidental. This is more common for smaller organizations with 10 to 100 employees. The incidental routine is when an organization starts at the practice stage or Educate and Credit stage. It occurs when professionals naturally or though worth or mouth start using practice within an organization.  After several cycles of practice and, -or educate and credit learn. In time these cycles can reach management and get involved in the Stakeholder Buy-In stage. From there it may be picked up in a chronological or internal routine.

 

The various roles can and in smaller organizations probably will be addressed by several people. If an organization is small, management needs to be involved and may also get involved in all the stages of Stakeholder Buy-In, Resource Management, and Ambassadorship.

PLCC Activities

The various stages of the PLCC stages each have several activities that can be executed within the stages. The various activities are as follows: 

Stakeholders Buy-In (1)

At the Stakeholder Buy-In stage, the goal is to get a stakeholder buy-in and align it with the stakeholder vision. The stakeholder needs to align with the LLD culture, while at the same time the organizational LLD culture needs to align and understand the organizational vision and mission. This means understanding which direction the organization is going in and which skills and practices can contribute to this ambition.

Learning and development goals can be established for the Learning Community, which can be achieved within one, several, or continuous cycles. Activities may include:

  • Formulating vision and mission concerning LLD
  • Formulating goals (map)
  • Executing stakeholder management
  • Formulating an organization’s house of skill

Resource Management (2)

The stage Resource Management is an activity that is already in-house with bigger organizations. Often, it’s addressed by HR, L&D, or quality management. The activities that lay with recourse management are:

  • Build a house of skills (Soll)
  • Overview (mix)
  • Appoint coach and delegates

The extensiveness of the activities of Resource Management depends on the size of the organization. Resource Management should be facilitated so that the other stages can continue.  To have the practitioner community function properly and the PLCC continue accordingly.
Facilitating may include making sure the right and supporting material has been made available.

The more important and comprehensive action is the translation of the goals of the stakeholders into executing learning goals. These learning goals will need to be set into sub-activities that can be achieved through the PLCC. In each cycle, Resource Management can re-evaluate the total executed activities and correct where needed. This will help to achieve the desired outcome aligning with the learning goals and organizational ambition. 

Ambassadorship (3)

The stage Ambassadorship is about continuous learning and making the PLCC go in a correct and continuous routine. The Ambassador stage can be executed by one of the champions or by someone who takes the role of coach. The Ambassadors stage and the role who is executing are most demanding and important. Since a certain skill set very much accelerates the effect of the Learning Community and the adoption.

  • Transfer fundamental didactical understanding
  • Leverage needed skills
  • Combat resistance
  • Nurture the Practitioner community
  • Evolve the Champion Pyramid
  • Forward and monitor the stages

Educate and Credit (4)

Besides the Ambassador, the champions are vital in ensuring the update and growth of the Champion Pyramid and the practitioner community. The champions need to have the right knowledge and skills to do so. This can be facilitated by clarifying:

  • Ways of teaching
  • External (Commercial) facilitated vs. Internal- training, or learning
  • Importance of diplomas and certification
  • Operational
    • Arrange planning & organization
    • Provide materials
    • Execute training
    • Motivate usage and learning
    • Facilitate downward learning and usage

Practice (5)

The practice stage is important since it’s what transforms the organization. The practice stage is where the practice is applied in the organization. Creating change and enabling benefits.
Activities here are:

  • Get champions to pull practitioners
  • Facilitate usage
  • Monitor usage and progress
  • Enable growth towards the champion
Figure 7 PLCC activities

Learn (6)

The learning stage widens the community of practice and the reach of the practice. The participants need to be facilitated so they can move upwards in the champion’s pyramid.

  • Determine program
  • Appoint coach and delegates
  • Facilitate

Roles and Objectives

The various roles in the Champion Pyramid each have their own function and objectives. As mentioned before, depending on the size of the organization and Learning Community, a professional can be responsible for several roles.

Dual Roles
The most important roles of the PLCF are the person responsible for the Ambassador cycle stage and the leading Champion. With PLCCs,  these can often be the same person – even including the role of coach.


Figure 7 PLC Champion pyramid

Champion Pyramid Roles

  • Coach
    The coach is aligned to the ambassador’s stage and its objective is to enable proper continuous PLCCs. The PLCC should manage itself- therefore, the role is a coach and not a manager. In theory, the coach could also be called ambassador or lead champion depending on the emphasis used to approach managing the PLCCs.

    • Coaching: means to enable proper growth of the professional learning community, by coaching on how to execute the PLCCs and expanding the Champion Pyramid and practitioner’s community.
    • Ambassadorship: means to promote and represent the organizational LLD culture and the practice within the organization. The emphasis lays here on expanding the Community of Practitioners.
    • Lead Champion: the lead champion promotes and represents the organizational LLD culture and the practice within the organization like the objective ambassador. But the Lead Champion does it more from an expert perspective specifically based on the practice.
    • Champion: the champion is what drives the community of practice. This is a role that has a good understanding of the practice and motivates others to execute it as well.
      The goal is to generate a pull effect for other professionals within the organization to also join the champion’s role. The champions can instigate a PLCC in case of an internal or incidental PLCC routine. 

  • Practitioners, these are the professionals  to work with the practice. These need to facilitated to growth of the champion pyramid, practitioner community, and the adoption of the practice. 

  • Participants
    The participants are professionals that are confronted with the practice. They are important since they are next in line to be practitioners. 

Cycle stages roles.

  • Stakeholder-Buy In
    This is upper management; in the case of a large corporation, it can be directors or the board.
    With a smaller company, it can be the management team, CEO, or director.
  • Resource Management
    This role and stage are often executed by HR, specifically L&D or a quality manager, in case of a small organization the Recourse Management may be executed by the direction . If those are not available, it could then be the CFO director or person in the charge of administration. If all are not present within the organization it would be possible to combine roles with whoever is executing the stakeholder or coach role.
  • Ambassador
    The role executing the ambassadorship role has been elaborated in more detail above at the role of coach.

 

Cycle stages roles.

  • Stakeholder-Buy In
    This is upper management; in the case of a large corporation, it can be directors or the board.
    With a smaller company, it can be the management team, CEO, or director.
  • Resource Management
    This role and stage are often executed by HR, specifically L&D or a quality manager, in case of a small organization the Recourse Management may be executed by the direction . If those are not available, it could then be the CFO director or person in the charge of administration. If all are not present within the organization it would be possible to combine roles with whoever is executing the stakeholder or coach role.
  • Ambassador
    The role executing the ambassadorship role has been elaborated in more detail above at the role of coach.
Figure 7 PLC Champion pyramid

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