Adult learning in online communities of practice: A systematic review

Adam Abedini*, Babak Abedin, Didar Zowghi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)
608 Downloads (Pure)


Adult learning is a lifelong process whereby knowledge is formed through the transformation of adults' experience. Research on online adult learning has been on the rise in recent years, thanks to the innovative opportunities provided to adults by digital technologies. Online communities of practice (OCOPs) a one of such opportunities, which offer the potential to bring geographically dispersed adult learners together through a common interest. Despite an increased growth in the use of OCOPs by adults in various professional sectors, there is still a lack of understanding of the characteristics of online adult learning in OCOPs, and the facilitators and hinderers influencing engagement in these communities. This paper presents a comprehensive synthesis of research literature on online adult learning in OCOPs to understand its characteristics and what may facilitate or hinder adults' engagement in these communities. A review has been conducted using a systematic, rigorous and standard procedure, aiming to summarise and synthesise existing research on the topic and to provide analytical criticism. In total, thirty-seven studies were included in this review. Findings revealed that members of OCOPs are independent, experience-centred, problem-centred, self-motivated, goal-oriented, and lifelong learners with the purpose to achieve professional outcomes. Moreover, the results revealed how the engagement of adults in OCOPs could lead to improving learning processes. Findings also showed that the level of engagement is influenced by aging, fatigue caused by a busy life, resistance process due to learning new technologies, lack of personal evolution, interactive learning settings, motivation, self-regulation and competition factors. This study revealed facilitators and hinderers of engagement in OCOPs. The study extended andragogy to digital environments and contributes to the theory by making sense of characteristic of adult learning in OCOPs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1663-1694
Number of pages32
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Technology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • adult engagement
  • adult learning
  • lifelong learning
  • online communities of practice
  • systematic literature review


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