Explication and Communities of Practice.

Introduction

In the page on explication as a form of experiential learning we float the idea that an understanding of one’s implicit knowledge can provide the background for insights and discoveries that lead to new ideas, new knowledge and new practice for oneself and others.

In a related page, on explication and communities of practice provides evidence to support the argument that “that explication is a form of experiential learning, and offers helpful meanings to those who choose to use the word in the context of their own discipline.”

On Communities of Practice

These findings resonate with the theory, practice and rhetoric of Communities of Practice discussed below.

In 1991 the idea of communities of practice was brought firmly into learning theory by Lave and Wenger (1991).

Taking the definition of communities of practice from Wenger’s web site (Wenger, 2006),

“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”

This definition is consistent with our use of the term. Notably, the definition is also consistent with the argument in Easterby-Smith and Araujo, (1999, p. 4) which emphasises learning to be a social process rather than technical process only.
“Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems—in short a shared practice.
(Wenger, 2006).”

On workplace learning

“Workplace learning is best understood… in terms of the communities being formed or joined and personal identities being changed. The central issue in learning is becoming a practitioner not learning about practice. This approach draws attention away from abstract knowledge and cranial processes and situates it in the practices and communities in which knowledge takes on significance.
(Brown and Duguid, 1991, p.48.)”

Given that the field of organisational learning is split between those who emphasise it to be a technical process, and those who see it as being an essentially social activity (Easterby-Smith and Araujo,1999, p. 3), then perhaps we should look to a paradigm which explicates the social processes that are endemic to the ways that “people make sense of their experiences at work” (Easterby-Smith and Araujo, 1999, p 4).

One such approach is the work of Lave and Wenger (1991) who’ve brought us the idea of ‘communities of practice’. To my mind, the term has a better resonance than the term ‘learning organisation’. Notions of ‘community’ and ‘practice’, for instance, echo some of the micro-processes which are engaged in the personal and organisational development. Similarly, where the idea of ‘community’ is defined as the “self-organizing” willingness of individuals to come together for a common purpose (Wenger, 1998, p2)*, there’s a sense that personal and community-wide learning is likely to be better motivated, quicker and more enduring. Indeed, experience suggests that people who work in formal or informal communities of practice have a better understanding of what they can do together, and feel that they’re not just a cog in a larger machine. (cf. McHugh, et al., 1998).

This “self-organizing” principle is the key to ome’s understanding of, respect for, and case for communities of practice as learning organisations. In making this assertion, I don’t want to mislead you. Just because a community of practice is “self-organizing”, it isn’t the same as saying a community of practice can forgo inputs from those outside. On the contrary, Wenger (1998) is clear: he sees communities of practice as part of a “social system” – a network of other communities – where membership, knowledge, learning are permanently in flux in the ongoing pursuit of a common shared purpose. Some of these communities may have short term goals, and fade away relatively quickly. Others might be expected to last longer. And others may be part of a network of communities formed within and between business units with a company, or between companies.

To sum up then, using Wenger’s own words (http://www.ewenger.com/theory/communities_of_practice_intro.htm ),

In fact, communities of practice are everywhere. They are a familiar experience, so familiar perhaps that it often escapes our attention. Yet when it is given a name and brought into focus, it becomes a perspective that can help us understand our world better. In particular, it allows us to see past more obvious formal structures such as organizations, classrooms, or nations, and perceive the structures defined by engagement in practice and the informal learning that comes with it.

References

Brown, J.S. and Duguid, P. (1991). “Organizational Learning and Communities-of-Practice: Toward a Unified View of Working, Learning, and Innovation” , Organization Science, February 1991 vol. 2 no. 1 40-57, p.48.

Easterby-Smith, M. and Araujo, L. (1999). “Organizational Learning: Current Debates and Opportunities”, in Easterby-Smith, M., Burgoyne, J. and Araujo, L. (eds.) (1999). Organizational Learning and the Learning Organization, London: Sage, pp. 1-21, p 4.

Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning. Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McHugh, David et al (1998). “Managing learning: what do we learn from a learning Organisation?” The Learning Organisation, Vol 5-No5, pp209-22.

Wenger, E. (1998). To be added

Wenger, E. (2006). “Communities of practice. A brief introduction.

Published: 30 April 2013

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