Community of Practice
In ancient times, people formed relationships through informal networks based on their common background, location or interest. Community of practice is an amalgamation of two words, community and practice. The Macmillan dictionary defines community as “usually small, social unit of any size that shares common values” on the other had practice refers to “act of rehearsing a behavior over and over, or engaging in an activity again and again for the purpose of improving or mastering it.” Practice leads to perfection. Generally, community of practice is a special kind of informal and formal networks created by individuals with a common interest to share information.
Apparently, this association is formed inside large organizations. In this perspective, professionals within an organizational structure amalgamate to create discussion forums where they could perfect their competence in a certain field (Kimble et al, 2008, pg. 46). People through formal discussion may create a community of practice through developing a common sense of purpose and the desire to share their work-related experience and stories. This work outlines the concept of community of practice.
According to cognitive anthropologist Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, a community of practice is a group of people who share a profession or a technique p. 255. This group may evolve naturally through the common interest of members in a particular sphere or area. Within the group, members share information and experiences thus provide an opportunity for members to develop themselves personally and professionally. Community of practice exists in the real life, they may of different settings based on the environment that lead to their formulation. It may be in a factory floor, in a field setting, in a lunchroom at work, in church amid others. However, members of the group must be co-located. A more advanced setting is known as Virtual community (VC). To this end, members form and interact through online (Lave & Wenger, 2004, p. 105).
Professionals have adopted this practice to learn and share with their profession. Initially, it was described as a practice of learning through practice and participation, which is known as situated learning. The practices were created over time through a process of legitimate peripheral participation. In this perspective, the community was characterized by legitimacy and participation while peripheral and participate are concern with location and identity in the social setting. Later, the idea of an inherent tension in a duality was adopted to replace legitimate peripheral participation (Wenger et al, 2002, p. 23). To this end, the community of practice structure was attributed to three interrelated terms: mutual agreement, shared repertoire, and joint enterprise.
Community of practice is everywhere and we are generally involved in a number of them, be it in school, workplace, home and in our civic or leisure interests. There are different attributes of community of practice. The domain-it has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest. Membership implies commitment to the domain and therefore has a common competence that identifies and distinguishes members from other people. The community- members engage in a joint activity and discussion, share information and help each other where necessary. The practice- community of practice is not merely community of interest. Members develop a platform of sharing resources, experience, tools, and stories and as a way of addressing recurring issues. Another characteristic of community of practice includes membership, identity, fluid boundaries, voluntary action, collective strength and responsibility, and common culture (Drath & Palus, 2006, p. 101).
Several factors influence the activities of Community of practice. Community of practice members is thought to be more efficient and effective conduits of information and familiarity. Studies indicate that workers spent one-third of their time seeking for information and are more likely to turn to co-workers rather than other explicit source of information. Social presence- it refers to the degree of salience of people in a group and the consequences of salience in an interpersonal relationship. This affects how members relate and participate in a community of practice. Ego and personal attacks, time constraint and large overwhelming community of practice can bring social presence. Motivation to share knowledge is important to the success of community of practice. Members are encouraged to share information and participate. Methods used to ensure participation includes: community interest, tangible and intangible returns (Lave & Wenger, 2004, p. 165). Collaboration is another critical factor to ensure that community of practice flourishes. It influences how knowledge is exchanged in a business network. In fact, the high educational level has a higher tendency to favor collaboration.
The success of community of practice depends on the purpose and objective of the community, the resources and interests of the members of that community. There are several actions that when utilized can cultivate a successful community of practice. Members should create opportunities for open dialog either within or with an outside perspective. It is very essential to understand the different possibilities of meeting their learning objectives. All ideas and participation should be welcomed and allowed. Therefore, groups can take up leadership role or adopt passive participants in the community (O'Brien, et.al 2005, p. 79).
In addition, the group should develop both private and public community space. This includes a public space where members participate in sharing, discussing and exploring ideas. The practice should also offer private exchange mandate is to coordinate relationships amid members and resources on individualized approach. It should focus on the value of the community. In this perspective, it should create opportunities to examine their productivity and value of their participation in the group (Karlsson, 2004, p. 56). Community of practice should offer expected learning opportunities as part of the structure and opportunity to shape their learning experiences jointly through brainstorming and examining the convectional and radical knowledge related to the topic.
Conclusively, this concept was not born in the systems theory tradition. It can be described as a simple social system. It is a conceptual framework of thinking about learning in its social dimensions. It arises out of learning and exhibit several characteristics of systems namely; emergent structure, complex relationship, dynamic boundaries, self-organization as well as an ongoing negotiation of cultural meaning and identity.
Drath, W. H., & Palus, C. J. (2006). Making common sense: Leadership as meaning-making in a community of practice. Greensboro, N.C: Center for Creative Leadership.
Karlsson, M. (2004). community of practice. Göteborg, Sweden: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis.
Kimble, C., Hildreth, P. M., & Bourdon, I. (2008). Communities of practice: Creating learning environments for educators. Charlotte, N.C: Information Age Pub.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (2004). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge [England: Cambridge University Press.
O'Brien, C. L., O'Brien, J., & Educational Resources Information Center (U.S.) (2005). The origins of person-centered planning: A community of practice perspective. Lithonia, GA: Responsive Systems Associates.
Wenger, E., McDermott, R. A., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School Press.