Communities of practice

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Wallace, M 2004, 'Communities of practice', Journal of Workplace Learning, vol. 16, no. 5/6, pp. 302-303.


As concepts of organizational learning have moved well beyond individual competencies to organizational capabilities, discourses around the term "communities of practice" (CoP) have become part of the workplace learning lexicon. There are a number of definitions for this term and some are explored in the sites below. One author embraces the concept that learning is a social system and characterizes communities of practice as the ways in which better practices can be developed and spread faster. In organizations, communities of practice are informal networks that address cross-functional and cross-divisional collaboration relating to work-based knowledge and innovation and rely on the self-organising capabilities of professionals. It is recognized that there are "gaps" between the official work processes and real world practices, the "shadow" that actually makes the organization function. Communities of practice may be one such "shadow". Individuals' abilities to initiate and contribute to projects across organizational boundaries fill that gap and are particularly, but not exclusively, networked through the use of Web based technologies. For instance, Buckman Laboratories has a company intranet that links sales staff in 90 countries both synchronously and asynchronously (www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/boosting/4.shtml). Reading between the lines in a number of these sites, it appears that more established concepts of the reflective practitioner, collaborative individualism, situated learning and the communication styles within informal matrix-related structures may be, in part, the antecedents of this concept.

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