A mapping of Online ‘Communities of Practice’ in the North American Jewish Institutional World

Oct. 04, 2011

Souece: The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education


This survey, commissioned by the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education, represents a first mapping of professional online learning networks in the North American Jewish institutional world. The results presented here are drawn from a literature survey and analysis, interviews and on-line questionnaires.


From the Executive Summary:

  • The theoretical concept of ‘Communities of Practice’ is manifest in a variety of Jewish Virtual Learning Networks (JVLNs), ranging from groups with scheduled meetings and well-organized facilitation through loose online networks in which people may participate at their convenience.
  • Most professional JVLNs have institutional sponsors.
  • Most professional JVLNs have facilitators, moderators or list managers, who play a crucial role in the group’s functioning.
  • JVLNs efficiently and affordably enable people with common professional interests to share knowledge across boundaries: institutional, denominational and geographic. Transcending geographic distance is a particularly important advantage; the vast majority of the groups are national or international.
  • The main area of interest among JVLNs is education, followed by leadership development.
  • The greatest challenges facing JVLNs are their need to constantly adapt to changing technology and the necessity of finding (and funding) skilled facilitators.
  • The majority of respondents said they had not received formal training in JVLNs facilitation. Of those who did, the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellows – Leading Educators Online program initiated by JJF and Lookstein Center was the most commonly cited.


The field is new and changing rapidly. While it has not yet become as widespread as was anticipated at the outset of the research, the fact that most of the JVLNs have been organized within the past few years indicates the potential growth of the phenomenon. That many of the respondents also knew of JVLNs which were launched and failed shows the need to identify challenges and needs and to take steps towards actualizing the potential of the format, so passionately articulated by the proponents of Communities of Practice. It is hoped that the data and analysis here makes a constructive contribution to this goal.

Updated: Dec. 07, 2011