We have been reading up on ways to help companies increase profits, create brand awareness and increase customer loyalty in order for them to stand out amongst competitors. We came across a couple of websites discussing about creating and developing communities of practices as the new differentiator ( we will mention them below) and we decided to learn more on how to create and develop a corporate community of practice, in order for companies to have the new differentiator as a leverage. In this 3 part blog series, the first post will be on “What is a Corporate Learning Community of Practice, What Type of Community of Practice should Corporations Go Into, and How a Company Can Establish a Community of Practice”. The second post will be on the “Top 10 Tips to Creating a Community of Practice” and finally the last post will be on “The Benefits of Creating the Communities of Practice, (aka kaching!) and How ELearning and Mobile Learning Can Support It”.
What is a Corporate Learning Community of Practice?
Two definitions stem from Lave and Wenger’s 1991 work, the feature-based definition and the process-based definition. The feature-based definition simply comes from the words “community” and ‘practice”. Therefore a corporate learning community of practice refers to a community, in this case, employees, who share their professional knowledge through practice, rather than learning from experts or guidebooks. Employees mainly go through processes of joint problem solving, rather than from a more instructivist approach of experts or researchers transmitting knowledge to learners.
The process-based definition defines community of practice as “the process of knowledge generation, application, and reproduction is which communities are in a constant process of legitimate peripheral participation”. Through the participation, learners enter a community and gradually learn the practices. Over time, group habits and group identity may form, resulting in more and more central practices of the group.
“Employees mainly go through processes of joint problem solving, rather than from a more instructivist approach of experts or researchers transmitting knowledge to learners.”
Suppose you have a team of repairmen for printing machines. Instead of relying on manuals or attending workshops learning how the machines work and how to repair the machines, the repairmen can probably understand how to repair the machines more through the hands on experience or from one another while at work.
Corporate Learning communities of practice may be organized by an organization or through the employees’ initiatives. Participants may work in the same job role within an organization or cross departments. The communities can help with the mentoring of new employees who just joined the company, help disseminate processes and information as well as to engage in innovation projects to improve work processes or solve problems. The environment encourage collaboration of tasks, sharing of knowledge and resources as well as promoting professional development.
What Type of Community of Practice Should Corporations Go Into?
There are mainly 2 types of Communities of Practice, the self-organizing community of practice and the sponsored community of practice.
Self-organizing community of practice pursue the shared interests of the members in the group. They usually add value to the organization by sharing best practices, learning points from various situations/scenarios, providing solutions to issues and challenges through informal sharing or common learning platforms like forums. Due to the informal nature of such communities, (they usually arise because there is a need from the employees), they are less structured, less organised, but extremely resilient. There is no fixed management nor control over such communities as members come and go, depending on their professional needs, but the communities are resilient as they adapt over time and sharing of expertise and knowledge will increase broadly.
Sponsored communities of practice are initiated, managed and supported by the management. These communities of practice will be expected to produce quantifiable results or direct benefits to the company. There is more structure to these communities and formal roles, responsibilities and meetings will be assigned. In sponsored communities of practice, there will be distinctive objectives and targets to be achieved in terms of learning and collaboration from colleagues, leverage on the learning to increase productivity,improve efficiency, generating revenue, or tangible value-added benefits for the corporation.
“There will be distinctive objectives and targets to be achieved in terms of learning and collaboration from colleagues, leverage on the learning to increase productivity,improve efficiency, generating revenue, or tangible value-added benefits for the corporation.”
The expected outcomes for sponsored communities of practice will vary but in general, it should compass the following:
- Fostering learning
- Encouraging interaction
- Sharing professional knowledge or even creating new knowledge
- Identifying and learning from best practice
Whether a corporation decides to have self-organizing communities of practice or sponsored communities of practice depends on the work related function of the role or profession. Generally, a sponsored community of practice would be more ideal when corporations want to :
- Manage knowledge
- Generate intellectual capital
In the following situations, self-organising community of practice may form:
- Recurring problem during work process such as production, distribution, purchasing or customer sales
- New hires
How Can You Establish a Community of Practice?
Communities of Practice can emerge through formal planned processes or spontaneously. An example for formal planned processes, is upon completion of a training or workshop, an online forum is established and employees can use it as a platform to communicate, share information as they apply the training skills they learnt.
Spontaneous communities of practice takes place any time, any where. Employees might discuss about the unique situations they face during lunch breaks or when they bump into each other at the pantry. Social media sharing and collaboration may also take place as they share resources or ask for guidance or solutions on platforms such as Twitter or Linkedin. These communities are mainly participant driven and does not require support from the management.
Corporations can also have multiple communities of practice addressing different needs with different participants. There are many ways to establish a community of practice. It can be a single approach or a multiple approach using social media platforms or tools.
“Corporations can also have multiple communities of practice addressing different needs with different participants.”
- Social bookmarking or Sharing
Social bookmarking allows the sharing of URLs at a social level. A group can be set up for all members of the community to access. With social bookmarking applications like Diigo, notes can be added and important points can be highlighted.
Another useful tool is Evernote, where notebooks can be shared among different communities of practice and the content of the notebooks is entirely customisable. The content of the notebooks can be anything from links of articles, extracted information of company’s guides, manuals or curated information by the members. As long as the members share the notebook, anyone can add links, extract information from articles, annotate and access the information any time they want by logging into their Evernote account.
Linkedin groups are another possible social media platform which communities of practice can personalize, do collaborative learning and create a performance support group online. Posts can be shared and social interaction regarding unique problems can raised and answered by the members of the group. The settings of the group can be set to private and only members of the group can see the interaction in the group. Members can then gain a sense of trust amongst one another, which will in turn enable them to feel comfortable enough to interact with one another, forming a community of support.
“Through the collaborative process, members of communities of practice can develop professionally in a continuous manner.”
Communities of practice can take place during onsite meetings as well. Through the collaborative process, members of communities of practice can develop professionally in a continuous manner. Innovative measures need not always be from a “top down” management approach, but a “bottom up” initiative originating from employees working on the ground.
In our next two posts,we will discuss 10 Tips on Creating Communities of Practice and the Benefits of Creating Communities of Practice. If you have comments or thoughts, do share your ideas with us by leaving your comments below!
If you are interested, these are the online resources we have been reading on to learn more about Community of Practice.
1. What is a Community of Practice and How Can We Support It?
2. Two Kinds of Communities of Practice
3. Developing Communities of Practice