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Communities of Practice

Page history last edited by smarambel@csupomona.edu 9 years, 9 months ago


Communities of Practice

The term "Community of Practice" is a relatively recent coinage, even though the phenomenon it refers to is age-old. The concept has turned out to provide a useful perspective in knowing and learning. A growing number of people and organizations in various sectors are now focusing on communities of practice as key to improving their performance (Wenger, 2006).


In layman's terms, "Community of Practice" means a group of people who come together to interact and learn from each other. This does not necessarily make them subject matter experts or know more than non-members. It only means they have a common interest and a willingness to share their knowledge or experience. They have a passion for their interest/subject—a desire to do it better—and they interact regularly for this very purpose with other members.


According to Wenger, the old traditional way of thinking about the learning theory comes from the assumption that it is something with a beginning and a end and has to be taught by somebody in an isolated teaching environment. Community of practice is a more modern way of thinking about the learning theory, which emphasizes learning as a social process, with the majority of our learning occuring through the experience of living our daily life. Jean Lava and Etienne Wenger proposed this theory and called it the model of "situated learning." Communities of practice can be anywhere and everywhere—at work, school, home or in any hobbies/interests. At any given time, all of us, are involved in a number of them. We are the core members of some of these groups, whereas on the outskirts of others.






There are three important characteristics that make up a "community of practice." Developing these in parallel lines cultivates a community of practice.


1) Domain: A shared domain of interest—without this it is merely a friendship club or a network of connection. Being a member implies a commitment to the domain and know-how of the subject. This sets members apart from one another.


2) Community: The domain characteristic is further expanded when the shared interest encourages members to engage in joint activities and discussions to help each other and share information. Having the same job or sharing the same title does not make a community, it only becomes a community when members interact and learn together and from each other.


3) Practice:  Just a single interaction or contributing to a knowledge bank does not make a community of practice. As the word suggests, "communities of practice" require a lot of practice, which means time and sustained interaction are key factors.







How do these communities develop their practice?


They do so through a variety of activities, such as:


Problem Solving
"I am stuck with this problem, can we brainstorm a solution?"
Request for Information
"I am looking for a good math program, does anybody know of one?"
Seeking Experience
"I have a student with a severe learning disability, does anybody have a similar situation?"
Reusing Assets
"I came up with a strategy to control the cheating problem with my students, which you can easily tweak to help with your situation."
Co-ordination and Synergy
"Maybe we can combine our purchases of smart board equipment and get bulk discounts."
Discussing Developments
"What do you think of the new NCLB act?
Documentation of Projects
" We have had this similar kind of problem quite a few times. Lets document the solution."
" Can I come observe your class when they are working in the garden?  We would like to do something similar."
Mapping Knowledge and Identifying Gaps "Who knows what we are missing? What other groups should we connect with?"



Communities of Practice and Knowledge Management


Wasko and Faraj (2000) describe three kinds of knowledge: "knowledge as object," "knowledge embedded within individuals," and "knowledge embedded in a community." Communities of Practice have become associated with finding, sharing, transferring, and archiving knowledge, as well as, making explicit "expertise," or tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is considered to be those valuable context-based experiences that cannot be easily captured, codified and stored (Davenport & Prusak, 2000; Hilderth and Kimble, 2002).


The community of practice, collectively and individually, is considered a rich potential source of helpful information in the form of actual experiences; in other words, best practices. Thus, for knowledge management, a community of practice is one source of content and context that if codified, documented and archived can be accessed for later use.


The concept of community of practice has found a number of practical applications in business, organizational design, government professional associations, development projects, civic life and education. In the field of education, the concept was first applied in teacher training and in providing administrators access to colleagues which led to peer-to-peer professional development activities.


Specifically, community of practice affects educational practices along three dimensions: 1) Internally, that is, within the school building; 2) Externally through participation in broader communities beyond the walls of the school; and 3) Over the lifetime of the students, by organizing communities of practice focused on topics of continuing interest to students beyond the initial schooling period. From this perspective, the school does not remain the privileged focus of learning. From a self-contained, closed world in which students acquire knowledge to be applied outside, it becomes part of a broader learning system. The class now is not the primary learning event. It is life itself, that is the main learning event. Schools, classrooms, and training sessions still have a role to play in this vision, but they have to be in the service of the learning that happens in the world.


Here are links to a few websites that give additional information about "Communities of Practice:"









An inspiring video-




The Facebook Developer Garage Program a Global Community
An Example of a "Community of Practice" in Action 



References and Resources:


Smith, M. K. (2003,2009). Communities of practice. In The encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved April 23, 2011, from http://www.infed.org/biblio/communities_of_practice.htm.


The facebook developer garage program. (2009). . Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8MidL6oTvQ&feature=youtube_gdata_player


TwoMinTv. (2008, November 13). Communities of practice-inspiring innovation [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUXE9hRI1V4


Wasko, M.; Faraj, S. (2000). ""It is what one does": why people participate and help others in electronic communities of practice". Journal of strategic information

          Systems 9 (2-3): 155–173. doi:10.1016/S0963-8687(00)00045-7.


Wenger, E. (June, 2006). Communities of practice a brief introduction. In Communities of practice. Retrieved April 23, 2011, from http://www.ewenger.com/theory/index.htm.









Comments (3)

smarambel@csupomona.edu said

at 6:34 am on Apr 28, 2011

Abida, I've been emailing my comments to you this week, but just realize I should have been commenting on your page. My last edits contained making some minor tweaks on wording. As stated before all your links work and APA formatting on references looks excellent.

I also checked Karl's contribution / YouTube video and inserted a subhead about it being a good example of a Community of Practice. Thanks so much and as stated before you did a great job presenting the information and especially liked the graphics you used!

Abida Merchant said

at 6:44 am on Apr 28, 2011

Hi Stella, same here I just realized last night that we have to communicate here itself, but I guess it should not be a problem since all of us did our respective jobs and we are well within our deadline. Thank you for that last e-mail and no it does not get sent directly to our regular mail, the comments just stay here.
Well, a brief update, I was done with the page on Sunday, you checked and made sure everything was ok by Monday right? And then Karl did his changes last night.After which I went through it and you went through it too. I guess its all good. =))

smarambel@csupomona.edu said

at 8:31 pm on Apr 28, 2011

You are correct, Abida... I think we are good to go! Awesome job as Primary Writer! Great information for someone like me who is interested in learning about "Communities of Practice." -stella

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