Community of practice
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A community of practice (CoP) is a group of people who share a craft or a profession. The concept was first proposed by
A CoP can evolve naturally because of the members' common interest in a particular domain or area, or it can be created deliberately with the goal of gaining knowledge related to a specific field. It is through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that members learn from each other, and have an opportunity to develop personally and professionally (Lave & Wenger 1991).
CoPs can exist in physical settings, for example, a lunch room at work, a field setting, a factory floor, or elsewhere in the environment, but members of CoPs do not have to be co-located. They form a "virtual community of practice" (VCoP) (Dubé, Bourhis & Jacob 2005) when they collaborate online, such as within discussion boards and newsgroups, or a "mobile community of practice" (MCoP) (Kietzmann et al. 2013) when members communicate with one another via mobile phones and participate in community work on the go.
Communities of practice are not new phenomena: this type of learning has existed for as long as people have been learning and sharing their experiences through storytelling. The idea is rooted in
Since the publication of "Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation" (Lave & Wenger 1991), communities of practice have been the focus of attention, first as a theory of learning and later as part of the field of knowledge management. See Hildreth & Kimble (2004) for a review of how the concept has changed over the years. Cox (2005) offers a more critical view of the different ways in which the term communities of practice can be interpreted.
To understand how learning occurs outside the classroom while at the
The structure of the community was created over time through a process of
Lave and Wenger's research looked at how apprenticeships help people learn. They found that when newcomers join an established group or community, they spend some time initially observing and perhaps performing simple tasks in basic roles as they learn how the group works and how they can participate (an apprentice electrician, for example would watch and learn before actually doing any electrical work; initially taking on small simple jobs and eventually more complicated ones). Lave and Wenger described this socialization process as legitimate peripheral participation. The term "community of practice" is that group that Lave and Wenger referred to, who share a common interest and a desire to learn from and contribute to the community with their variety of experiences (Lave & Wenger 1991).
In his later work, Wenger (1998) abandoned the concept of legitimate peripheral participation and used the idea of an inherent tension in a
The structural characteristics of a community of practice are again redefined to a domain of knowledge, a notion of community and a practice.
In many organizations, communities of practice have become an integral part of the organization structure (McDermott & Archibald 2010). These communities take on knowledge stewarding tasks that were formerly covered by more formal organizational structures. In some organizations there are both formal and informal communities of practice. There is a great deal of interest within organizations to encourage, support, and sponsor communities of practice in order to benefit from shared knowledge that may lead to higher productivity (Wenger 2004). Communities of practice are now viewed by many in the business setting as a means to capturing the
An important aspect and function of communities of practice is increasing organization performance. Lesser & Storck (2001, p. 836) identify four areas of organizational performance that can be affected by communities of practice: