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Two senses for the term ‘learning community’

24 March 2009

I think the two senses of ‘learning community’ defined by Kilpatrick, Barrett and Jones (2003) are in fact grammatically two different phrases.


In the phrase described by the authors as the first sense, the focus ‘on the human element of communities’, the word ‘learning’ is an epithet. The epithet is descriptive and, I believe, a little bit evaluative (two sub-functions of the epithet).

Tests for epithets: they can be modified (for example, a ‘rapidly learning community’) and they can be separated by other epithets from their head noun (for example, a ‘learning, growing community’).

In this sense, it is the community which is the prime focus of the phrase.


In the other sense of the phrase ‘learning community’, what Kilpatrick, Barrett and Jones describe as the use focussed on inanimate structures, the word ‘learning’ is a classifier: it subclassifies the type of community being talked about.

One test for a classifier is that it restricts its noun head relative to others in the class – for example, the geography teacher versus the history teacher (not a pretty sight). Thus here we have ‘the learning community’ as opposed to other communities we could identify: ‘the skating community’; ‘the ex-pat community’; ‘a gated community’.

This is why the term ‘learning community’ in this sense could be replaced by ‘learning network’ or even ‘school’. In this sense, the purpose of ‘learning’ is the key meaning.

Reference: For definitions of these functions, see for example Downing & Locke 2006.

One Comment leave one →
  1. tatiloz permalink
    31 March 2009 8:17 pm

    I am not up on all the grammar but I like your ideas here – language definately has an effect on meaning and analysing it as you have here concurs with my throughts that it is the learning that counts in the term “learning community”.

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