This paper discusses the relation between communities of practice and knowledge management and how they impact various fields. Definitions of communities of practice are first provided, after which the concept is related to the writer’s course, which focuses on the proper implementation of information systems. As well, the paper discuses some insights on and applications of communities of practice and knowledge management. Finally, this paper concludes with the writer’s perspective on how the concepts of communities of practice and knowledge management can be applied to his profession, which is in technical sales.
Statement and Relevance of the Topic
The term communities of practice has been coined by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (Frost, 2010) to describe a learning theory that is strongly related to the social construction of knowledge. Simply put, Wenger (2006) defines communities of practice as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” On the other hand, Hara (2008, p. 3) describes communities of practice as “collaborative, informal networks that support professional practitioners in their efforts to develop shared understandings and engage in work-relevant knowledge building.”
This is a concept that should be well understood by every professional and by every organization, especially in the present information age where vast amounts of information are being produced and processed. It is important for all this information to be properly managed and shared so that they can be transformed into knowledge that organizations and professionals can use for the achievement of their goals. In addition, communities of practice allow for continuous learning and for the update and advancement of knowledge, which is essential for growth.
Key Issues of the Topic
The main issue of this topic is how communities of practice and knowledge management can be used to benefit organizations and businesses. More particularly, this paper aims to determine how communities of practice and knowledge management can be applied to the writer’s profession, which is in technical sales, particularly in the sales of financial management systems to local government entities.
Application of the Course Concepts to the Topic
Research on the Topic
Wenger (2006) asserts that in communities of practice, the community members must share a domain of interest; must engage in activities that allow for information to be shared; and must be practitioners in their respective fields. According to him, only when these three characteristics are met can a community be called a community of practice (Wenger, 2006). However, the application of this concept has no limit in that it can be applied to various areas such as organizations, government, education, associations, the social sector, International development, and even the Web (Wenger, 2006).
According to Hinton (2003), information and knowledge transfer have contributed greatly to providing organizations with a competitive edge, as the creation, enhancement, and transfer of knowledge can be used for creating innovations and for improving an organization’s performance. Even in the public sector, Bate & Robert (2002) asserted that communities of practice could lead to the development of inventions and ideas. As Wenger (2004, p. 3) proposed, “company-wide communities make learning available to all concerned. They make sure that the learning from various locations within and beyond the organization is synthesized and integrated, and then remembered and distributed.”
As well, in the study conducted by Witt, McDermott, Peters & Stone (2007), a knowledge management system was used to enable knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer among higher education teachers who were from various locations. This supported the assertion of Su, Wilensky and Redmiles (2011) that communities of practice is an integral part of knowledge management.
No one can deny the importance that information and knowledge play at a time when knowledge can become a source of strategic advantage in any field. While communities of practice are responsible for the creation and sharing of such knowledge and information, technology – in the form of knowledge management systems – can be used for managing and distributing the said knowledge in order to facilitate learning.
In the writer’s particular profession, the application of communities of practice and knowledge management is two-fold in that as a member of a community of practice, he is able to learn more about his field of expertise and further enrich his knowledge. In addition, he is able to share that knowledge with his clients as his learning enables him to provide better advices and recommendations for how they, too, can create communities of practice and how they can use information systems to facilitate their learning. Needless to say, knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer do have a ripple effect in that they can extend even beyond a specific community of practice.
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