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There are two ways to look at this skills of "Learning With Others." The first is about that act of learning with others. It used to be that when we wanted to learn with others, we had to find someone local interested in the same topic as we were. Now we go online and go find a learning community.

The second is the fact that our world, particularly the volume of information, is growing faster than any of us can take it in. So we need each other as learning filters. We can't do this alone. Our lives are full of messy problems which are so complex that they resist solutions by an individual - raising the need for collaborative knowledge sharing. Now instead of banging our heads against the wall alone, we can learn with others across a gradient of experience and knowledge in communities of practice.

All communities of practice share the same structural features: “a domain of knowledge, which defines a set of issues; a community of people who care about this domain and the shared practice that they are developing to be effective in their domain” (Wenger, McDermott and Snyder (2002) , p27). These communities have always existed and we all belong to multiple communities of practice. Members of communities of practice “share information insight and advice… help each other solve problems … ponder common issues… and act as sounding boards …Over time they develop a unique perspective on their topic as well as a body of common knowledge, practices and approaches” (pp 4-5). In a study of teachers learning to teach with technology Wideman and Owston (2003) found that communities of practice “provide a shared ground that allows participants to collectively develop the knowledge and skill needed for successful professional development.”

Many benefits have been cited for participation in communities of practice. Wenger, McDermott and Snyder (2002) argue that effective communities of practice create several kinds of value in the knowledge economy within and across organizations. These include short term benefits to project teams, the development of organizational capacity “connecting the personal development and professional identities of practitioners to the strategy of the organization” (p17), and linking apparently separate activities which share knowledge domains. Thus practitioners are able to share and create knowledge in communities and to make tacit knowledge explicit.

Let's explore some of the big issues and some groups of practices together. Because we'd recommend NOT doing this online stuff alone!

•Huge design implications. Tools are designed for a group, experienced by an individual
•Large practice implications.

  • The Gift economy - giving away knowledge without being sure of anything coming back
  • Collaboration across distance
  • Creating and participating in networks
  • Creating and participating in communities of practice

6 Network functions

  • Filters
  • Amplifyers
  • Convenors
  • Facilitators
  • Investors
  • Community builders

Some useful practices:
  • Listen
  • Filter
  • Search
  • Tag, bookmark
  • Annotate
  • Blog
  • Be un-knowing
  • Reciprocate

You hold more sand in an open hand than in a closed fist!

Value of networks: Ben Ramlinger ODI working paper
Wenger, E. 1998. Communities of Practice: learning, meaning, and identity Cambridge University Press Cambridge
Wenger, E., McDermott, R. A., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: a guide to managing knowledge. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Wenger, E. (2004) Communities of practice: A brief introduction.
Wideman, H. and Owston, R. (2003) Communities of practice in professional development: Supporting teachers in innovating with technology. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, April 2003. [Online]. Available WWW:

Discussion starter questions:

Reflect on your involvement in one network
Reflect on your involvement in one community of practice
What are the roles of technology and practices in an effective network or community of practice?