Communities of Practice

May 4, 2008

Communities of practice are social learning. Every person in the network helps one another to get to their common goal. Etienne Wenger first proposed this form of learning in 1991. In the article Communities of Practice on his website, he says it is not merely a network of people, it is a group of people with a common identity working towards a common goal. While this is not a new learning concept, Wenger was the first person to describe the phenomenon.

Those of us who want to go into web design need to be involved in a community of practice. The web provides a good source for us to go to for any information we need to know. Blogs would be the most accessible source, though anywhere where people with similar goals go to talk about their interest would also work.

Communities of Practice: Learning as a Social System is another article by Etienne Wenger that was widely referenced by other students learning about communities of practice. It would seem that several professors think that it is relevant to the topic at hand, so I believe it also needs a mention. In it, he cites examples of communities of practice and how they are effective. He emphasizes how it is a group of people with similar goals, not interests. Our class is a community of practice in that we are bouncing ideas off of each other so we can more effectively learn. A group of programmers in a blogsphere is a community of practice. A group online devoted to, say, LOLcats is not a community of practice since, while they have a similar interest, they do not have a goal in mind. A community of practice is more of a team that works together than anything else.

In It’s not how famous you are, it’s how relevant, the author reasons that communities of practice thrive on relevancy and communication from the author. This article emphasizes the colloquialism of communities of practice. It is not how well broadcasted a person is, it is how relevant and accessible the information is to people in the same community of practice.

In Communities of Practice: A Means of Encouraging Knowledge Management, Amy Smith emphasizes that communities of practice are not only networking among a group, but also helping the novices in the community. The level of mastery in a community of practice is not the deciding factor in its success; instead, it is the level of participation amongst all members of the group.

Basically, what I get from communities of practice is that it is informal learning among a group of people. They each want to succeed in their field so they talk to the different members of their community. For us to have a more effective community of practice at school, we need to be able to not only network with those who have been through more of the program, but also effectively participate in not only our but their learning as well. It is a group effort for all of us and, if one of us does not succeed, then the group does not succeed as a whole. It goes back to that saying, we are only as strong as the weakest in the group.

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6 Responses to “Communities of Practice”

  1. Wayne said

    Your focus here is very appropriate and your wide range of resources strengthens the concept of what a COP is all about. It is a special term that I discovered in grad studies. I have a deep history of participating in a variety of personal growth oriented groups and the COP quickly became a close ally for me as I studied a rather unique discipline that is not well established. Finding a community that explored the varieties of my domain was a great asset and has highly influenced my direction in the field. Thanks for adding to my understanding of this important concept/practice.

  2. usernumber said

    The level of mastery in a community of practice is not the deciding factor in its success; instead, it is the level of participation amongst all members of the group.

    That part helped me understand this more.. thank you.

  3. jdbosley said

    It’s not how famous you are, it’s how relevant. I like that a lot. The article was really good as well. I like the idea that I might have knowledge that even someone smarter than me might be looking for. Sometimes I feel intimidated of sharing my knowledge, because it often seems like I am far from an expert in anything, but that article was kind of an encouragement to just share it anyways, someone might be looking for exactly what I have.

  4. danpro1 said

    Great blog Nicole…Was extremely helpful for me…

  5. jlphannah said

    When I started reading the article “It’s not how famous you are, it’s how relevant” I didn’t get it. It barely mentions Communities of Practice, but as I read a little further in it seems to touch on an aspect of that concept more than talking about it particularly.

    The quote: “Someone who does not communicate with me becomes less relevant to me, someone who does becomes more important. If what they have to say becomes less relevant, the ties weaken. This seems to me true of human behaviour both on and off line.”

    Although the article doesn’t speak much of Communities of Practice that quote more or less stresses the importance of interacting with your community, because in truth if the members aren’t participating then the amount of learning is drastically decreased.

  6. mwcain81 said

    I agree with Amy Smith’s article on how the CoP can help out novices. I think if anything this overrides the old adage about the weakest link. If any thing it makes it to where even the weakest link is as strong as the sum of the whole.

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