The concept of Community of Practice in education

Based on the article “Communities of practice” by Etienne Wenger -one of the key theorists of the concept of ‘Communities of Practice’- (available here: http://www.ewenger.com/theory/) it becomes clear that the concept of CoP is a perspective of knowing and learning that is seen by a number of people and organisations in various sectors as a key to improve performance.

Communities of Practice are everywhere and have been around for as long as human beings have learnt collectively, at home, at work, at school, or in hobbies. However, they come in a variety of forms from small to large, with a core group and peripheral members, local or global, formal or informal. Also, they are known under a variety of terms in various organisations such as ‘learning networks’, ‘thematic groups’ or ‘tech clubs’.

It was anthropologist Jean Lave who coined the term ‘Communities of Practice’ and used the term in learning theory, which is relevant to the relationship between a student and a teacher and a teacher as a learner in a wider context of the profession. Lave studied apprenticeship as a learning model and used the term CoP to refer to “the community that acts as a living curriculum for the apprentice”.

The definition of a CoP given in the article is the following: “Communities of Practice are groups of people who share a concern or passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

The charecteristics of a CoP are three:

1) Domain: A shared domain of interest (commitment to the domain, shared competence, valued collective competence)

2) Community: Engaging in joint activities and discussions, help each other, knowledge-sharing, learning from each other.

3) Practice: A shared repertoire of resources such as experiences, stories, tools, ways of problem-solving

The concept of Communities of Practice has practical implications to education. I observe it on a daily basis at my work in HAAGA-HELIA Porvoo Campus. Knowledge is a critical asset of the success of our organisation. Therefore, we constantly aim at managing knowledge and knowledge-sharing. Knowledge-sharing is an integral part of our curriculum and both students and teachers are responsible for sharing best practices.

Our work in teacher teams and our regular meetings when knowledge is shared together with our open office working environment are indicators that the management is aiming at creative a community of practice.

In our organisation collective learning and knowledge sharing is our high priority and importance and it is the key differentiating factor amongst our unit and other units of the same educational organisation.

The key themes emerging from the article are: collective learning, passion, continuous improvement, shared resources, knowledge-sharing.

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2 thoughts on “The concept of Community of Practice in education

  1. I agree that Porvoo campus enhances knowledge sharing in a very concrete way: the architecture itself offers ample opportunities for meeting in an innofficial way. However, I believe that the domain doesn’t necessarily have to be physical. I have experienced that Openope community in Google + works the same way for us at School of Vocational Teacher Education. The nature of our work is such that we move a lot on the field in different schools, and it is very seldom we actually have a chance to bump into eachother on campus. That is why it is very important to also create virtual meeting places for our community of practice.

    • Absolutely, I agree! The physical environment can also impose dangers such as lack of privacy and lots of disturbances and noise when one needs to focus at work. Knowledge-sharing is a mindset, regardless of the space -physical or virtual. You can share the same office and desk and still be secretive and not open to share what you know.

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