Evaluating the National Digital Learning Repository (NDLR): new models of Communities of Practice

Claire McAvinia, Terry Maguire


National Digital Learning Resources (NDLR), now a mainstreamed service in Ireland, provides a national resource bank of digital materials for learning and teaching and was the first such initiative to involve all HEA-funded institutions. The authors undertook two parts of a three-phase internal evaluation of the NDLR pilot project in 2008. The evaluation focused particularly on describing and analysing the experiences of Communities of Practice established as part of the NDLR, and made recommendations for these communities in terms of their further development.

In this paper, we describe the evaluation methods and we present findings from the evaluative studies. We discuss the interaction between the communities and the repository itself, and how the evaluation pointed the way for longer term use of the repository by individuals and groups. O'Keeffe et al. (2008) have previously examined the ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ nature of NDLR Communities of Practice, and we seek to extend this research by presenting four models to describe the communities as they currently function. NDLR Communities of Practice drew on existing networks, or in some cases established new ones, to foster and stimulate the use of the national digital repository. Although these networks call on the terms of Lave and Wenger’s theoretical model (Lave & Wenger 2002), they might not conform to a traditional view of Communities of Practice. The paper will briefly review Communities of Practice theory to analyse the evaluation data, and will then describe the four models of community identified. Specifically, we examine the structure of the communities, and the ways in which individuals and special interests have been accommodated in ways that might not previously have been considered part of a Communities of Practice framework.

The paper concludes with presentation of an ‘evolutionary pathway’ for NDLR communities, and we discuss how this will take shape as the project moves from pilot to mainstream. We offer proposals for how ‘smart’ communities can expand in the context of a full NDLR service.


Communities of Practice; e-learning; digital content; repository; evaluation

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