Communities of Practice

Lave and Wenger’s Communities of Practice (CoP)

Emergent from Situated Learning Theory, Communities of Practice (CoP) are groups of individuals sharing concern or passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Wenger 1998).  According to Lave and Wenger a focus of learning is social participation as this participation within the community lends to the construction of an individual’s identity.

To be considered a Community of Practice, three crucial characteristics must be evident. These characteristics include:

  1. A domain– There must be a shared interest among the group to where the collective knowledge and competencies of the group is shared and members learn from one another. The domain establishes a common ground in which inspires participation, guides learning, and helps members create meaning.
  2. A community– This is the social aspect in which learning takes place. Members build relationships promoting engagement in the group and allowing them to share ideas thus learning from each other.
  3. The practice– Members are practitioners within the domain. The group develops collective resources, tools, experiences, best practices, etc. as they engage in activities within the community.

Communities of Practice (CoP) in Practice

Understanding how CoPs develop will help educators and training and development professions cultivate CoPs as supplemental to established learning environments.  The following diagram represents the stages of development and learning activities associated with Communities of Practice.

CoP1

Application of Practice

The following are general themes regarding the practical application of Communities of Practice in business and education.

  • A learning environment (i.e. classroom, professional development program) is not the primary learning event
  • Educators support and facilitate opportunities for dialogue from various perspectives
  • Networking and relationship building are key to learning
  • Direct links between learning and performance are created through participation in the community
  • Accept levels of participation will vary among members (i.e. leadership, active, & passive)
  • Ways to combine familiarity and excitement are explored in shared learning opportunities

Learning within a community, for some, is the optimal form of learning. As an individual learns from those sharing the same experiences they become more confident in their own choices based on what they have learned within the community. From a leadership and training and develop perspective Communities of Practice can be used to establish cohort learning experiences among new personnel. The learning that results from participation in a cohort group may promote consistency among decisions made by new personnel as they navigate the socialization process. Connectedness among personnel participating in these communities may enhance further organizational initiatives such as the development of interdisciplinary teams.

 

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