Why communities of practice are important
According to Wenger (1998), communities of practice provide five critical functions. They:
- Educate by collecting and sharing information related to questions and issues of practice
- Support by organizing interactions and collaboration among members
- Cultivate by assisting groups to start and sustain their learning
- Encourage by promoting the work of members through discussion and sharing
- Integrate by encouraging members to use their new knowledge for real change in their own work.
Communities of practice are important as a professional learning strategy because they have the potential to:
- Connect people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to interact, either as frequently or at all.
- Provide a shared context for people to communicate and share information, stories and personal experiences in a way that builds understanding and insight.
- Enable dialogue between people who come together to explore new possibilities, solve challenging problems, and create new, mutually beneficial opportunities.
- Stimulate learning by serving as a vehicle for authentic communication, mentoring, coaching, and self-reflection.
- Capture and share existing knowledge to help people improve their practice by providing a forum to identify solutions to common problems and a process to collect and evaluate best practices.
- Introduce collaborative processes to groups and organizations to encourage the free flow of ideas and exchange of information.
- Help people organize around purposeful actions that develop tangible results.
- Generate new knowledge to help people transform their practice to accommodate changes in needs and technologies. (Adapted from Cambridge, Kaplan & Suter)
The professional learning needs of educators are changing. Communities of practice offer a robust strategy for professional learning. Here is why:
- Complex problems require more implicit knowledge, which cannot be codified.
- Implicit knowledge can only be shared through conversations and observation.
- Collaborative and distributed work is becoming the norm.
- Knowledge sharing and narration of work make implicit knowledge more visible.
- New ideas come from diverse networks, often from outside the organization.
- Learning is part of work, not separate from it. Communities of practice enable the integration of work and learning.
The value of communities of practice is in the depth of participants’ reflection and inquiry, and how they put co-created knowledge to action in their academic community.