The communities of practice model has been widely recognized as an effective educational approach that fosters meaningful learning, knowledge exchange, and collaboration within groups that share common interests, goals, or practices. The concept highlights the importance of social interaction, collective learning, and engagement in the process of information dissemination. It's a model that has been applied in various domains and is popular in Instructional Design circles. The following article will present an overview of the communities of practice model, its main elements, and applications in real-life contexts.
Jean Lave and Etienne Wegner were the first to discuss the communities of practice model in 1991; Wegner later applied the theory to include domains other than education, such as organizations. The model mainly refers to a group of individuals that share common interests or goals, interact regularly, exchange knowledge, and commit to achieving certain learning objectives.
The individuals that form the community all partake in the process of collective and collaborative learning that optimizes knowledge sharing and encourages peer-to-peer interaction. Through the community, the members are able to exercise their problem-solving and communication skills in order to successfully allocate and diffuse learning assets. Due to the synergy and the common objectives shared between the members of the learning network, the process of sharing information, filling knowledge or skill gaps, and building practical experience becomes easier. Moreover, the sense of community and collaboration alleviates the stress induced by traditional classroom settings and makes learning accessible to all age groups. Within a community of practice, people can focus on their personal development through the collective progress of their group.
Even if the term refers to a group of people with common interests and goals, it doesn't mean that every group resembling that description is a community of practice. According to Lave and Wegner, three crucial elements need to be combined in order to form a community of practice:
Not every group can be classified as a community of practice. Forming a community requires a shared domain of interest. Every member of the group needs to be personally invested in that domain. However, one does not need to be an expert, only competent enough to be distinguished from non-members.
As the group is established, the knowledge sharing begins; members learn from one another, detect and fill knowledge gaps, and consult each other through regular interactions. A community of practice conducts discussions to encourage knowledge dissemination and discourse and organizes joint activities to reinforce the practical application of the acquired knowledge. That's why this model cannot exist without interaction and collaboration.
As knowledge is shared, the members also allocate and disperse resources and personal accounts of lived experience. As mentioned above, they also organize collective activities to strengthen the theoretical foundations of their domain of interest through practical application. A community of practice would not be what it is without encouraging the acquisition of practical experience.
This model can be the key to improving performance and maximizing productivity, as it can be easily incorporated into any environment or field, as long as the three abovementioned components are in place. To start a community of practice, you need to follow these steps.
Discover the common goal or interest that can bring a group of people together. List what skills can be improved through collaborative learning and start searching for like-minded individuals. As we've said, no one needs to be an expert in their chosen domain. They simply need to be dedicated enough to participate, collaborate, and evolve. As the community comes together, make sure each person is not only invested in your domain but also dedicated to bringing something new to the table.
Creating a plan is a collaborative exercise in itself. After you've selected your domain and assembled your community, collect each member's learning objectives and goals. Compile everything into a list and create a board to document your process. On that board, you should include any essential resources or kits the community will require to optimize the learning outcomes. Every member should chip in and research the community syllabus's objectives appropriately to ensure that each scheduled meetup covers a specific topic on your list. This way, nothing gets repeated or left out.
Regular interaction between members is essential to successfully facilitating a community of practice, whether within a corporate setting or other environments. Peer-to-peer interaction enhances the positive outcomes of collaborative learning. Moreover, regular meetups can have tremendous benefits in providing opportunities for resource allocation, round-table discussions, and putting theory into practice. Try to make room in your schedule for at least a couple of meetings per month in order to maximize the efficiency of your community.
The knowledge shared between the group shouldn't be lost. Documenting processes, testimonials, and discussions can create a great compilation of domain-specific knowledge that will prove valuable for refreshing the knowledge acquired. In addition, the documentation will be beneficial if the community wants to keep track of their progress or if new members are joining the team.
Communities of practice have existed for as long as collaborative learning. The recipe for the successful formation of a community of practice requires three ingredients: a shared domain, a community, and practice. These ingredients are the key elements needed; the group size or expertise level is insignificant. Anyone can form a community if they are passionate about learning and follow this guide. If you're still uncertain about whether a community of practice is the perfect fit for your learning program, you can explore other alternatives through our Instructional Design Models and Theories list to find the right match.
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