CoP Series #3: Community – without people?

Here is the third in a series of guest blogs I did for Darren Sidnick, reblogged here with his blessing!) focused on CoPs in a learning context –> From: Darren Sidnick’s Learning & Technology: Community – because without people, you just have a pile of content. Or worse… nothing!  Part 1part 2part 3, part 4, part 5part 6,  part 7 ,  part 8 , part 9 and  part 1o  are all here on the blog.

Community – because without people, you just have a pile of content. Or worse… nothing!

This is the third post surfacing a bit more about Community, Domain and Practice mentioned in the series on communities of practice (CoPs). This time we’ll “go social” and talk about the community aspect. From the “no duh” perspective, there is no community without people. Here is Wenger’s explanation of Community in the context of CoPs.

The community: from
In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other. A website in itself is not a community of practice. Having the same job or the same title does not make for a community of practice unless members interact and learn together. The claims processors in a large insurance company or students in American high schools may have much in common, yet unless they interact and learn together, they do not form a community of practice. But members of a community of practice do not necessarily work together on a daily basis. The Impressionists, for instance, used to meet in cafes and studios to discuss the style of painting they were inventing together. These interactions were essential to making them a community of practice even though they often painted alone.

Right off there are the practical implications of Community in the context of elearning.

  • You have to find the people and, if they aren’t already connected or convened, make that happen. Is there an existing community you can tap into, or do you have to actually set one up? Are you ready for that?
  • Members have to have some sort of relationship with each other – so there needs to be conditions for not just information exchange, but social interaction. How does that fit with your mission and role?
  • Social interaction is neither linear, nor is it always neat and within the confines of structured things like “courses.” Are you ready for a little unorder?
  • Relationships develop over time. Courses end? What are the boundaries you need to set and what can be open ended? How will that be supported?

These questions might give you pause – and for good reason, but lets also look at the benefits of community. From a learning theory perspective, a lot of learning is social, meaning it happens between us, not always as a solo activity. In fact some of us seem to need social learning more than others. When Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave coined the term communities of practice, it was part of their work on understanding learning and the importance of social learning. Again, from Wenger:

Social scientists have used versions of the concept of community of practice for a variety of analytical purposes, but the origin and primary use of the concept has been in learning theory. Anthropologist Jean Lave and I coined the term while studying apprenticeship as a learning model. People usually think of apprenticeship as a relationship between a student and a master, but studies of apprenticeship reveal a more complex set of social relationships through which learning takes place mostly with journeymen and more advanced apprentices. The term community of practice was coined to refer to the community that acts as a living curriculum for the apprentice. Once the concept was articulated, we started to see these communities everywhere, even when no formal apprenticeship system existed. And of course, learning in a community of practice is not limited to novices. The practice of a community is dynamic and involves learning on the part of everyone.

Community as curriculum — for me, that is a pretty juicy concept. So let’s just end this blog post at the edge of the cliff. What does that mean to you? How might you imagine your learners as community and thus as a way to extend and deepen your curriculum?

11 thoughts on “CoP Series #3: Community – without people?”

  1. Kia ora Nancy!


    I learnt this idea recently from Dave Cormier’s Rhizomatic Education – Community as Curriculum. It’s an almost inevitable development, given the way Web2.0 concepts seem to be veering us. It’s an exciting time. The potential is awesome!

    I’ve just begun a (learning) blog for our elead teachers – we have a lot of them, and we have a lot to learn. I have no specific journey I wish to steer them along, at least, not just yet. But I’m thinking that this concept of CoP will provide some initiatives in directions that may lead to fruitful learning.

    I’ll keep you posted 🙂 .

    Ka kite
    from Middle-earth

  2. So my question to you is, do you think people create their own “communities” or are communities developed by the group that individuals can then join? How do you distinguish a “community” over a “group” or “organization”?

    I currently am looking at cultures, groups, and organizations in a workplace setting and am finding there is much overlap and/or levels between cultures and groups. I could see the same thing with a community of practice. For example, my son is in high school. Last year when he arrived, there were some students that had come from the middle school at the same high school and others (like my son) who were outsiders. Within his “community” there was a mix (so according to the theory, some seasoned and some “newbies”). However, my son played soccer and soon was friends with upper classmen who were on the same track but a year ahead. In other words, here was really one community of practice, divided into two communities for some students but one community for my son. This is where I begin to loose the thread of communities of practice.

    Also, what happens if someone believes they are part of the community, but in fact the community rejects them? We have seen this in academic (or even political) circles where someone speaks on behalf of the “community”, but the majority of the community would not want to be associated with the person.

  3. Sorry for my slowness in responding. (Crazy life!)

    ingiltere dil okulu , I have not yet done the back end work to see if the underlying software, WordPress, has any multilingual interfaces. However, you might see if Google translate helps. I also installed a little translation widget on the lower left navigation bar – it isn’t terrific, but it is a step in the right direction.

    Ken, Dave’s stuff is fabulous. I’ve had the chance to hang out and chew the fat with Dave. If you ever get the chance, jump at it!

    Virginia – I can only struggle with these questions, particularly the definitional ones. Community/group is one of the problemmatic ones. For me, community has more of a sense of purpose.

    But I do know individuals can catalyze and create community – it just takes 2 to start and that we don’t have to rely on formal organizational development paths.

    The idea of multimembership combined with the idea that one member of a community can perceive it as one large community, while others see it as two distinct communities is something I had not thought about before — but it makes absolute sense. In some sense, our PERCEPTION of community is probably as important as any external description of that community. And our sense of belonging as well. What I find actually, is that often people think they themselves are outsiders, while other members of the community see those same people as “inside.” Why do we place ourselves outside?

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