Paper Analysis: Forming Communities of Practice in Higher Education: A Theoretical Perspective


  • Focus on how learner learning can be stimulated through learning in communities of practice at institutions of higher education in South Africa and Europe
  • Explore and describe ways of developing learning communities as well as determine the feasibility of doing so.
  • Study consists of 6 phases:
    • Developing a theoretical framework for communities of practice
    • Exploring preliminary learners’ attitudes towards communities of practice
    • Forming pilot communities of practice
    • Evaluating pilot communities of practice groups
    • Implementing action research to pilot communities of practice
    • Applying the communities of practice model to other groups
  • Paper highlights phase one of the process
  • Significant finding in the study is 15 criteria for evaluating communities of practice
  • This paper comprised a literature study to determine which CoP theoretical perspectives and models exist and to compile criteria for developing CoP


Types of knowledge:

  • Factual
  • Conceptual
  • Procedural
  • Metacognitive

Explicit knowledge – the knowledge that exists in documents, databases and as part of processes

Tacit knowledge – embedded in people and their experiences

Areas of learner knowledge:

  • Tacit knowledge
  • School knowledge
  • Innovative and construct knowledge

Knowledge creation is a process of communication between explicit and tacit knowledge

Learning theories relevant to communities of practice:

  • Behaviourist Theory – focuses on stimulus-response events & on the significance of contiguity, repetition and reinforcement leading to conditioning
  • Critical Theory – a useful vehicle for illuminating the ways that we can use emotions both to recreate and to change social structures in any educational setting
  • Activity theory – 3 components (artefacts, rules, division of effort) – a subject who performs an activity with the support of community and produces an object which leads to an outcome. An activity system interacts with a network of other activity systems (e.g. management and academics)
  • Personality Theory – emphasises the description of individual features of personality and its structure in terms of cognitive -affective units that include goal-orientated, feed-forward and feedback components
  • Social learning theory – highlights the importance of observing and modelling the behaviours, attitudes and emotional reactions of others
  • Situated learning – learning occurs if the person is actively involved in the learning process – learning that occurs is a function of the activity, context, and culture in which it takes place
  • Constructivist Theory – learning is an active process where learners construct new ideas or concepts based on their current or past knowledge
  • The theory of communities of practice – views learning as occurring through and from participation in social practice within communities of practice – learning is at the centre

Criteria for CoPs (from learning theories)

  1. CoP should support agile methods and strategies
  2. CoP should develop a learner’s practical skills, attitudes, and values through experiential and guided participatory learning
  3. CoP should develop a learner’s reflective experiences
  4. CoP should shape a learner’s behaviour through sequencing of instruction
  5. CoP should engage a learner in emotional reflection
  6. CoP should empower consciousness and meaning through joint, collective activity and feedback control
  7. CoP should utilise the dynamics of the activity system: artefacts, rules, and division of effort.
  8. CoP should emphasise an activity which leads to an innovative outcome.
  9. CoP should pay attention to the ‘individual style of activity’.
  10. CoP should acknowledge individual features of personality.
  11. CoP should support joint enterprise between management, academics, and technology.
  12. CoP should engage attention, memory, motivation, and retention.
  13. CoP should encourage multidisciplinary tacit knowledge-sharing between learners, supervisors in academia and entrepreneurs.
  14. CoP should acknowledge that learning is a function of the activity, context, and culture.
  15. CoP should support learning through cognitive and practical apprenticeship



(Jakovljevic, Buckley, & Bushney, 2013)

Jakovljevic, M., Buckley, S., & Bushney, M. (2013). Forming communities of practice in higher education: a theoretical perspective. International Conference on Management, Knowledge and Learning, 1107–1119. Retrieved from


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