Paper Analysis: “Communities of Practice – A Brief Introduction – Wenger (1998)”


Wenger, E. (1998). Community of Practice: a Brief Introduction. Learning in Doing, 15(4), 1–7.


  • Communities of Practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor.
  • 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
  • learning can be the reason the community comes together or an incidental outcome of member’s interactions
  • not all communities are communities of practice – the following three characteristics are crucial to a community of practice:
    • The Domain:
      • shared domain of interest
      • committment to the domain
      • shared competence that distinguishes members from other people
    • The Community
      • members engage in activities and discussions, help each other and share information
      • they build relationships that enable them to learn from each other
      •  members interact and learn together
      • but they don’t necessarily work together on a daily basis
    • The Practice
      • members of a CoP are practitioners, not merely a community of interest
      • they develop a shared repetiore of resources – experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems – a shared practice
      • this takes time and sustained interaction
  • Communities of practice develop their practice through a variety of activities:
    • problem-solving
    • requests for information
    • seeking experience
    • reusing assets
    • coordination and synergy
    • discussing developments
    • documentation projects
    • visits
    • mapping knowledge and identifying gaps
  • CoPs come in a variety of forms –
    • small, large (with a core group and many peripheral members), local, global
    • some meeting face-to-face and others mostly online
    • some are within organisations, some include members from various organisations
    • some are formally recognised (often supported with a budget), othera are completely informal and often invisible
  • the concept has been used in learning theory and it was first introduced by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger while studing apprenticeship as a learning model in 1991. The term CoP was coined to refer to the community that acts as a living curriculum for the apprentice
  • The concept is being applied in organisations, governments, education, associations, social sector, international development and the web
  • Organisations:
    • CoPs enable practitioners to take collective responsibility for managing the knowledge they need
    • CoPs among pracititioners create a direct link between learning and performance because the same people participate in CoPs teams and business units
    • Practitioners can address the tacit and dynamic aspects of knowledge creation and sharing as well as the more explicit knowledge
    • CoPs are not limited by formal structures, they create connections amng people across organisational and geographic boundaries
    • the knowledge of an organisation lives in a constellation of CoPs each taking care of a specific aspect of the competence that the organisation needs
  • Education: Communities of Practice affect educational practices along 3 dimensions:
    • Internally: How to organize educational experiences that ground school learning in practice through participation in communities around subject matters?
    • Externally: How to connect the experience of students to actual practice through peripheral forms of participation in broader communities beyond the walls of the school?
    • Over the lifetime of students: How to serve the lifelong learning needs of students by organising communities of practice focused on topics of continuing interest of students beyond the initial schooling period?

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