Communities of practice: a social discipline of learning

Welcome to Elevate 2008! Don’t you wish you were here in beautiful Banff!!!

The conference opens this evening with a keynote by Dr. Etienne Wenger, of Situated Learning and Communities of Practice fame.

He began by giving us an overview of how his understanding of communities of process. First, he studied a listserv on myeloproliferative disorders.

He asked, how is this support group a community of practice? In what way are they? What do you see when you look at it as a community of practice and what does this perspective help you see that you wouldn’t see otherwise?

Some questions were also:

  • How can people trust each other enough to share when they communicate only via email?
  • Isn’t the connection with email “too thin”?
  • Is the bandwidth sufficient to help you recognize the practitioner in the other person – so you want to know and to learn from the other person?

We should be careful not to assume the “lurkers” aren’t learning anything from the listserv – the level of participation can be very high – a story of those who left the listserv after their spouse passed away but shared that the listserv was a lifeline for them.

Phrases to remember:

  • from support to practice
  • gaining a voice in research and policy
  • development of learning is a social practice of connecting people with each other and with knowledge.

In another scenario – a bank company brought together people from different countries who were receiving loans to share what they were doing. Imagine collaborative auditing instead of adversarial auditing. Learning from others and how they are doing things…

From a community of practice perspective, you can’t just learn the technique. You have to create an environment to enable the community of practice.

Research sideline: I’m still trying to wrap my head around what a theory is and what it really means. How do theories come to be and how to you recognize a theory if you met one? I am hearing from Dr. Wegner that he looked at the support community and tried to understand what they were doing; from that developed the theory, and it has been used and built upon since….

A CoP is a group of people who

  • share challenges, passion, or interest
  • interact regularly
  • learn from and with each other
  • improve their ability to do what they care about

can we say…. Jazz!?

Basic model: a social discipline of learning – domain, community and practice.

“knowledge as practice”

“nurturers” are not really the leaders – because there aren’t followers – but people need to nurture the community.

participation, support, and sponsorship are also key parts of the social discipline of learning.

Possible shapes or orientations of communities of practice: meetings, projects, access to expertise, relationships, context, community cultivation, individual participation, content publishing, open ended conversation.

Hmm. Read Around the Planet, vc listservs & social networks,

Learning activities – problems and a bunch more – like solving dialing issues! stay tuned for a new resource on that soon…..

Participation forms model – do we value the lurker or those on the periphery? they might take something from this community and bring it to another one….

Technologies – he’s writing a new book on technology stewardship – crosses from synch to asynch and from interacting to publishing – with the group in the middle. Really cool. Impatient for this one to come out!

Here’s a good question for my leadership program too (sorry for the crossover!)…. what is a body of knowledge? regulatory body, research disciplines, professional bodies, communities, professions, workplace, teaching, etc. “core and boundary learning”…. As a practitioner you “come to embody the whole landscape” of knowledge.

Modes of identification with the community – imagination, engagement, alignment…

What is my role in this system? it’s learning citizenship… multimembership. This is where I am; what is my next step? Learning citizenship is opening new spaces for new conversations…. do you think blogging about VC does that? how about twittering about VC?

Learning is not just accumulating information…

The future of learning ….. the 21st century will be the century of identity. Who am I as a learner? Access to information is less and less problematic. So:

  • meaningfulness and participation
  • trajectory and multi-membership
  • scale and experience
  • technology and geography

You can’t assume that you know what you need to teach students. The shelf life of knowledge is so short. Not so much what can your students do or use what skills? the main question is where have your students visited??! YES! How much have they traveled in the landscape of practices? the teachers who made an impact invited me into who they were…. they allowed me to taste what it’s like to be somebody I’m not yet….

“if you teach to the test, it’s not your fault, it’s the fault of the system”

How do we help children understand the meaning of the knowledge? Not just the technicalities.

This theory puts the emphasis on the meaningfulness of the person as a being.

Question for us to consider…. How can I contribute to the learning capability of my world by enhancing the learning capability in my own sphere of participation?

Process note: “it may be better to hold your question until you’ve talked to others”

Now we’re breaking into groups to discuss…. and my power is running out…. so think about this:

After hearing this presentation, or reading my scribbles, what do YOU think is the implication for our practice in videoconferencing?

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