Paper – Communities of Practice – A literature Review

Paper: Communities of Practice – A literature Review


  • CoPs definition – “a group of professionals informally bound to one another through exposure to a common class of problems, common pursuit of solutions and thereby embodying a store of knowledge” Hildreth & Kimble (2000)
  • – “groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis” Wenger, McDermott & Snyder (2002, p.7)
  • Within the context of social learning theory, learning is a social phenomenon and is placed in the context of our lived experiences and participation in the world
  • The following components are necessary to characterize social participation as a process of learning: meaning, practice, community and identity. These are interchangeable with their relationship to learning
  • These 3 characteristics are key to the formation of CoPs – mutual engagement (people are engaged in common actions or ideas and can be from different social backgrounds or different areas of the world), joint enterprise (creates mutual accountability among participants) and shared repertoire (routines, words, tools, stories, gestures, actions, ways of doing things etc. that they have produced during their existence) (Wenger 1998)
  • (Brown and Duguid 1991) – creation of knowledge in a CoP is characterized by three elements – Narratives (used for identifying problems & representing existing knowledge), Collaboration (participants engaging in and sharing common practice) & Social Constructivism (participants develop a common understanding of their practice and how to solve problems)
  • Legitimate Peripheral Participation – learning is a social process – the nature of the situation as the social context impacts significantly on the process of learning and participation in the community. E.g. people initially join communities and learn from the periphery and as they become more competent they move close to the centre of the community
  • Building communities of practice is different to forming organizational groups or project teams who may be focused on creating structures, systems and roles to achieve specific organisational goals
  • Wenger, McDermott & Snyder (2002) – 7 design principles for maintaining CoPs –
    • Design for evolution
    • Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives
    • Invite different levels of participation
    • Develop both public and private community spaces
    • Focus on value
    • Combine familiarity and excitement
    • Create a rhythm for the community
  • Development of a community of practice – 3 life phases which include 5 stages
    • Formation (stages 1 & 2 – potential and coalescing) – networks are discovered, common ground and relationships are formed – generation of value
    • Integration (stages 3 & 4 – maturing and stewardship) – focus upon particular topics, admission of new members, tools and methods are developed that are unique to the community, new ideas are continually welcomed
    • Transformation (stage 5 – transformation) – community may fade away or officially close, may become redundant or it may mean the beginning of a new community or merging with other communities
  • Online CoPs – Virtual learning communities (VLCs) – “a group of people who gather in cyberspace with the intention of pursuing learning goals – and distributed communities of practice (DCoP) – “a group of geographically distributed individuals who are informally bound together by shared expertise and shared interests or works”
  • Amy Jo Kim is an important figure when it comes to designing communities for online environments. Kim organises 9 basic design principles that have characterised successful and sustainable online communities:
    • Define and articulate your PURPOSE
    • Build flexible, extensible gather PLACES
    • Creating meaningful and evolving member PROFILES
    • Design for range of ROLES
    • Develop a strong LEADERSHIP programme
    • Encourage appropriate ETIQUETTE
    • Promote cyclic EVENTS
    • Integrate the RITUALS of community life
    • Facilitate member-run SUB-GROUPS



Couros, A., & Kesten, C. (2003). Communities of Practice: A Literature Review.



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