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Rethinking your CPD: Transform your learning – join a virtual community


NIHR Learn's new Communities space is a dedicated virtual area for NIHR staff and the wider workforce – it's a great place to learn and develop, explains Tara-Sienna Hartman, Clinical Research Network Learning Community Coordinator at the NIHR and Tristian Marshall-Regan, Clinical Research Network Learning Content Curator. This blog is part of the NIHR's Rethinking your Continuing Professional Development series. 

To be a part of a community and share ideas, experiences and knowledge around a particular topic or issue is a great way to learn. 

You are probably already part of more communities than you realise. They could revolve around sports, gaming, food, politics or even your continued professional development (CPD). You engage with a group around a common topic; you share your knowledge; and you gain theirs. A learning community really is as simple as that. And they're effective too.

This is why we launched the NIHR Communities space, part of NIHR Learn – our one stop shop for free, quality assured learning accessed by over 40,000 learners across the NHS and partner organisations every year. 

Our Communities space is a dedicated virtual area for NIHR staff and the wider workforce to meet and talk regularly and work together on a range of subjects. It’s a place where members can learn from each other and in doing so get better at what they do; developing professionally and delivering a better service.

Educational theorist Etienne Wenger summarises learning communities as ‘groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly’. With the growth of online communities, there has been much more interest in using this as an approach to continuous professional development (CPD) and ‘Lifelong Learning’. 

While there remains a need for formal learning environments (i.e. traditional classroom or face-to-face courses), people are increasingly enjoying the benefits of leveraging knowledge in virtual spaces that enable social and informal learning where members network, share and collaborate.

As the new decade dawns, a learning community could be a great way for you to kick start your CPD.

Everyone has something worth saying, so if you have yet to experience the benefits of participating in an online learning community or are unsure about sharing your point of view, our advice is to just have a go! It’s a great way to meet new people and grow your network.

Start off by introducing yourself, say who you are and where you work.  You’ll quickly find this leads to discovering what other people do and how you can work with them to achieve the same goals. Your experiences will resonate with some of your peers who may well identify with your own experiences. 

Often just stating how things are for you is interesting, as long as it relates to the topic being discussed. The fact that you are in a discussion forum about the specific topic or course automatically means that you have a shared interest.    

With NIHR Communities we also want to develop friendly, safe and vibrant communities and forums where people feel they can express their opinions and get into discussions. We have been making strides to provide these budding communities with the framework and guidance necessary not only to develop but to thrive both online and offline. This includes three tiers of involvement; the development of co-created spaces, steering groups, feedback, ensuring the success of these communities.

Whether you're a long time community member or someone who has yet to experience the benefits, learning communities could transform your learning in 2020. What are you waiting for?

If you are interested in hosting a learning community or to find out more about existing communities in this area, contact or visit NIHR Learn Communities

Find out more about Virtual Communities.


The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR, NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care.