Persistence of Passion: Learning Innovation Network as a Community of Practice to Support Innovation and Success

Concurrent Session 5

Brief Abstract

This roundtable will address the value of leaders’ commitment to their own professional development through exploring a working model of a community of practice. Practical resources will be shared, and participants will be invited to make connections based on shared interests and jumpstart their own innovative learning community.



Gerard L. Hanley Ph.D. is the Executive Director of MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching, and SkillsCommons ( for the California State University, the Director for the Center for Usability for Design and Accessibility and Professor of Psychology at California State University, Long Beach. At MERLOT and SkillsCommons, he directs the development and sustainability of the international consortium and technology strategy to provide open educational services to improve teaching and learning and continues to development the US Department of Labor's open repository of educational resources for workforce development. Gerry's previous positions include Assistance Vice Chancellor for Academic Technology Services at the CSU Office of the Chancellor, the Director of Faculty Development and Director of Strategy Planning at CSU, Long Beach.
Roslyn Miller is an instructional designer at the University of Central Florida with more than 20 years' experience as an educator in public, private, military, and university settings. She holds a BA in mathematics from Harding University, an MS in secondary education from Mississippi State University, and a PhD in curriculum and instruction from Mississippi State University. Roslyn specializes in quality course design, assessment, and STEM education.

Additional Authors

Stephanie Richter is the Director of Faculty Development and Instructional Support for the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois. She consults with and provides professional development for faculty on integrating technology into teaching and supports the online teaching and learning initiatives at NIU. She holds a Master of Science in Education in Instructional Technology and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics Education, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in Instructional Technology at Northern Illinois University. Research interests include online learning, online course design, social media and networking, faculty development, and faculty use of learning management systems.

Extended Abstract

This career forum roundtable will address the thorny question of why and how higher-ed leaders should make a commitment to their own professional development, particularly those engaged in areas of rapid technological and structural transformation, such as online learning and faculty development. We will describe how an informal network of university staff in academic technology transformed into a sustained “Learning Innovation Network” in which members have participated in regularly scheduled virtual meetings over multiple years. The persistence to meet and learn from each other has not only enabled members to collectively address common challenges, but also to maintain their passion for personal, institutional, and societal growth. 

The career forum will promote the community of practice model as a key strategy for achieving this goal by providing access to valuable resources, perspectives, and knowledge that can help foster innovation and success. The Learning Innovation Network has been open for others to join over the years, and we’ve reflected on what continues to drive us to sustain our community.   This presentation will review a working model for a community of practice based on the experience of the Learning Innovation Network, a community of practice that formed during COVID and continues to meet regularly.

The value and benefits of a community of practice are well established for higher education faculty. More commonly known as Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs), FLCs are cross-disciplinary groups of 8-12 people organized around a specific topic (e.g., VR/AR technology) or cohort (e.g., junior faculty). The FLC model has been widely adopted throughout higher education as a high-impact teaching and learning strategy since its inception at Miami University in 1979. Studies have found many measurable benefits of FLCs, including exposure to new teaching strategies, improved learning outcomes, better understanding of how students learn, the cultivation of faculty peer relationships, support for overcoming institutional barriers, greater support for diversity, increased service to the campus community, stress reduction, and increased contributions to the scholarship of teaching and learning (Tinnell et al., 2019; Glowacki-Dudka & Brown, 2007; Cox, 2004). 

Though perhaps less recognized, communities of practice also provide tremendous value and measurable benefits for non-faculty professionals in higher education, particularly for those tasked with key leadership responsibilities, such as problem-solving, innovation, goal-setting, and decision-making. Communities of practice are also adept at managing, growing, and distributing knowledge. Engagement in communities of practice brings a medley of benefits to the organization and to community members that have both short and long-term value. 

Communities of practice offer several key benefits for organizations. These include: an arena for problem solving, quick answers to questions, improved quality of decisions, more perspectives on problems, additional resources for implementing strategies, improved ability to take risks with support from the community, increased retention of talent, capacity for knowledge-development projects, forums for benchmarking against the rest of the industry, knowledge-based alliances, capacity to develop new strategic options, ability to foresee technological developments, and ability to take advantage of emerging opportunities (Wenger et al., 2002).

Just as importantly, communities of practice benefit community members. Individuals benefit in the following ways: help with challenges, access to expertise, heightened ability to contribute to the team, greater confidence, enjoyment of being with colleagues, meaningful participation, sense of belonging, forum for expanding skills and expertise, networking opportunities, enhanced professional reputation, increased marketability and employability, and stronger sense of professional identity (Wenger et al., 2002). 

Communities of practice can grow spontaneously or be intentionally planted and nurtured, and these can happen both within a single organization or across multiple organizations through the coordination of professionals within a specific field, rank, or interest group. This presentation will discuss the example of the Learning Innovation Network, a community of practice that emerged organically among higher-ed professionals in online learning and professional development from several institutions of higher education across the US. This community of practice has experienced many of the organizational and individual benefits listed above. 

Purely by accident, the first meeting of the Learning Innovation Network was scheduled for several days after higher-ed institutions across the US moved classes online in response to the COVID emergency in mid-March 2020. The shared experience of crisis solidified group formation and provided a mission for the group: to support each other through the uncharted territory of remote and hyflex teaching and learning. Consequently, the community met biweekly virtually via Zoom for the first year of its existence to tackle these challenges together and offer guidance and support. As the exigencies of the COVID emergency relaxed, the group shifted into a monthly meeting schedule, and the mission evolved into a desire to support innovation more broadly. Membership grew through word of mouth as existing community members invited colleagues from their personal networks. 

Now in its fourth academic year, the Learning Innovation Network has been meeting consistently since March 2020. Each month, members take turns to either present on a topic of interest from their area of expertise or invite guest speakers to present. Monthly presentations cover a range of topics in the fields of online learning and professional development: organizational structure, fiscal planning, faculty learning communities, lessons in leadership, competency-based education, personalizing course design, FLEXspace, OneHE, adaptive learning, OPMs, conducting an LMS review, blending learning, and hyflex. The group has also held book club discussions. 

One component of the members’ experience that has sustained our community’s engagement is that the topics and the process for managing the group reinforce our passion for education as a pathway for improving individuals’ lives and the collective well-being of society. With all the demands on the time and energy of academic technology staff, our work can be dominated by the daily operations of solving technology performance and adoption problems. The Learning Innovation Network provides a safe forum for its members to learn and share innovations that can help education at their institution and help their professional capabilities to make progress toward their utopian ideas and passions for a better educational experience for students, faculty, and community. Supporting persistence in one’s passions when no one else does becomes a real and important value to people in the Learning Innovation Network.

Ultimately, the experience of the Learning Innovation Network demonstrates the many benefits of a community of practice for higher ed leaders, especially those engaged in fields that are prone to considerable change and disruption, such as online learning and faculty development. Furthermore, the Learning Innovation Network also provides a working model for those who would like to create their own communities of practice. 

Practical resources on setting up an initial community, establishing goals and guidelines, communicating efficiently, and growing membership will be shared. Attendees will be invited to participate in an activity to make connections based on shared interests or goals, and potentially jump start their own learning community. 

This presentation will offer attendees the following key take-aways:

  1. The importance of professional development and innovation for higher ed leaders

  2. The efficacy and additional benefits of a community of practice approach to achieving this goal

  3. An example of a community of practice–the Learning Innovation Network–to serve as a working model, as well as lessons learned from this example

  4. Resources and tips for how to create a community of practice

  5. An invitation to join the Learning Innovation Network

Interactivity will be encouraged throughout the presentation through the following activities:

  • Networking icebreaker

  • Breakout sessions

  • Discussion questions

  • Q&A session

  • Online polls and materials



Cox, M. D. (2004). Introduction to faculty learning communities. New Directions for Teaching   and Learning, 97, 5-23.

Glowacki-Dudka, M., & Brown, M.P. (2007). Professional development through faculty learning communities. New Horizons in Adult Education and Human Resource Development, 21 (1/2), 29-39.

Tinnell, T.L., Ralston, P.A.S., Tretter, T.R., & Mills, M.E. (2019). Sustaining pedagogical change via faculty learning community. International Journal of STEM Education, 6:26.

Wenger, E.T., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W.M. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Harvard Business School Press.