Skip to main content

What Is a Community of Practice?

  • Chapter
  • First Online:
Communities of Practice

Abstract

Communities of practice are voluntary groups of people who, sharing a common concern or a passion, come together to explore these concerns and ideas and share and grow their practice. This chapter develops a theoretical framework for the idea of a community of practice. It investigates the reasons why this form of social learning, as described by Bandura, is particularly relevant to the higher education sector in the light of contemporary change and upheaval in society and the university world and an increasing emphasis on a scholarship of learning and teaching. The history and defining features of a community of practice, as developed by Wenger is explained as well as the more recent thought on landscapes of practice by the Wenger-Trayner partnership. Three particular examples from varied situations, including a virtual community of practice, are discussed to illustrate some of the key features of communities of practice. The chapter concludes with encouragement for higher educational institutions to champion the establishment of these communities.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Chapter
USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
eBook
USD 99.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD 129.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info
Hardcover Book
USD 179.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Similar content being viewed by others

Notes

  1. 1.

    These are representative of the key dates of Wenger and Wenger-Trayner’s publications, but are not inclusive of all their textual and electronic output.

  2. 2.

    Etienne Wenger has partnered with Bev Trayner, a learning consultant specializing in social learning systems.

  3. 3.

    The scholarship of teaching goes beyond scholarly teaching and is driven by a desire to understand how students learn effectively and how teaching influences this process. Thus, it is student-focused. The scholarship of teaching has two main components. The first is the use of creativity to develop original materials … that can be used beyond the boundaries of an individual instructor. The second component, a systematic evaluation of teaching and learning, can involve both informal and traditional research on teaching and learning, or curriculum related issues. Both research approaches require in-depth understanding of the literature, critical reflection, and sharing through publication.

  4. 4.

    Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (1896–1934) was a Soviet psychologist, and the founder of a theory of human cultural and social development. He is best known for his theories on how higher order thinking is developed in children and for proposing the concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

  5. 5.

    In education, scaffolding refers to the process of breaking learning into manageable steps with the teacher modelling and then stepping back and offering support. Bruner was first to use the term in the 1960s.

  6. 6.

    This can be accessed at http://wenger-trayner.com/.

  7. 7.

    Constructivism is based on the belief that learning occurs as learners are actively involved in a process of meaning and knowledge construction as opposed to passively receiving information. Learners are the makers of meaning and knowledge. Constructivist teaching fosters critical thinking, and creates motivated and independent learners.

  8. 8.

    More details about this and other CoPs currently operating at the University of Southern Queensland can be found at http://www.usq.edu.au/cops/communities.

  9. 9.

    The Key Element Model aims produce the following elements in students:

    • Positive interdependence: Students organize themselves by assuming roles which facilitate their collaboration.

    • Promotive interaction: Students take responsibility for the group’s learning by sharing knowledge as well as questioning and challenging each other.

    • Individual accountability: Each student is held responsible for taking an active part in the group’s activities, completing his/her own designated tasks, and helping other students in their learning.

    • Social skills: Students use leadership skills, including making decisions, developing consensus, building trust, and managing conflicts.

    • Self-evaluation: Students assess individual and collective participation to ensure productive collaboration.

References

  • Baird, J. (1986). Improving learning through enhanced metacognition: A classroom study. European Journal of Science Education, 8(3), 263–282.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bates, T. (2014). The role of communities of practice in a digital age. Online learning and distance education resources. http://www.tonybates.ca/2014/10/01/the-role-of-communities-of-practice-in-a-digital-age/. Accessed 1 October 2015.

  • Blanton, M. W. (2005). Using Valsiner’s zone theory to interpret teaching practices in mathematics and science classrooms. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 8(1), 5–33.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bouchamma, Y. (2011). Communities of practice with teaching supervisors: A discussion of community members’ experience. Journal of Educational Change, 12(4), 403–420. doi:10.1007/s10833-010-9141-y.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bouchamma, Y., & Michaud, C. (2011). Communities of practice with teaching supervisors: a discussion of community members’ experience. Journal of Educational Change, 12(4), 403–420. doi:3.1007/s10833-010-9141-y.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bourhis, A., Dubé, L., & Jacob, R. (2005). The success of virtual communities of practice: The leadership factor. The Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management, 3(1), 23–34.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boyle, E. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered priorities of the professoriate. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. New york, NY: Jossey-Bass Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cambridge, D. K. (2005). Communities of practice design guide: A step-by-step guide for designing and cultivating communities of practice in higher education. http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/nli0531.pdf. Accessed 14 October 2015.

  • Deutschmann, M. (2014). Creating online community-challenges and solutions. https://matsdeutschmann.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/creating-online-communitysecond-version.pdf. Accessed 30 July 2015.

  • Fullan, M. (2007). Change the terms for teacher learning. Journal of Staff Development, 28(3), 35–36.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gaytan, J. (2013). Factors affecting student retention in online courses: Overcoming this critical problem. Career and Technical Education Research, 38(2), 145–155. doi:10.5328/cter38.2.147.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goos, M., & Geiger, V. (2010). Theoretical perspectives on mathematics teacher change. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 13(6), 499–507.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hall, M. J. (1997). The collected works of L.S. Vygotsky. New York, NY: Plenum Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Holzam, L. (2009). Vygotsky at work and play. NY: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1990). Using cooperative learning in math. In N. Davidson (Ed.), Cooperative learning in mathematics (pp. 103–125). Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jordan, B. (1989). Cosmopolitan obstetrics; Some insights from the training of traditional midwives. Social Science and Medicine, 28(9), 925–944.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lander, J. (2005). Walk, don’t run: Achieving balance in professional development for academics moving online, School of Public Health, University of Sydney. www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/brisbane05/blogs/…/43_Lander.pdf. Accessed 15 July 2015.

  • Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Lawrence, J. (2008). Communities of practice: A sphere of influence enhancing teaching and learning in higher education. http://www.anzca.net/documents/2008-conf-papers/117-communities-of-practice-a-sphere-of-influence-enhancing-teaching-and-learning-in-higher-education-1/file.html. Accessed 12 October 2015.

  • Loughran, J. (1999). Professional development for teachers: A growing concern. Journal of In-service Education, 25(2), 261–273. doi:10.1080/13674589900200080.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McDonald, J. (2011). Interview with Professor Loveday. www.usq.edu.au/cops/resources/altcfellowship/vc-interview. Accessed 12 August 2015.

  • McDonald, J. (2012). Identifying and building the leadership capacity of community of practice facilitators. University of Southern Queenslandhttps://eprints.usq.edu.au/26120/8/McDonald_Nagy_Star_Burch_Cox_Margetts_LCJ_2012_AV.pdf. Accessed 4 October 2014.

  • McDonald, J., & Star, C. (2007) Making meaning of women’s networks: A community of practice framework. In 2007 International Women’s Conference: Education, Employment and Everything… the Triple Layers of a Woman’s Life, 26–29 Sep 2007, Toowoomba, Australia.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mead, G. (1934). Mind, self and society. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mitchell, I. J. (2007). Teaching for effective learning: The complete book of PEEL teaching procedures (3rd ed.). Melbourne: PEEL Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mitchell, I. J., & Mitchell, J. A. (1997). Stories of reflective teaching: A book of PEEL cases. Melbourne: PEEL Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mitchell, I. J., & Mitchell, J. A. (2007). PEEL in practice: 1400 ideas for quality teaching (8th ed.). Melbourne: PEEL Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Omivar, O. (2014). The evolution of the communities of practice approach: Toward knowledgeability in a landscape of practice—An interview with Etienne Wenger-Trayner. Journal of Management Inquiry, 23(3), 266–275.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Smith, C., & Pourchot, T. (2013). Adult learning and development: Perspectives from national psychology. NY: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (2011). Professional learning: An introduction to the research literature. http://www.aitsl.edu.au/. Accessed 14 October 2015.

  • Valsiner, J. (1987). Culture and the development of children’s actions: A cultural-historical theory of developmental psychology. New York, NY: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: Development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vygotsky, L. S. (1987). Thinking and speech (N. Minick, Trans.). In R. W. Rieber & A. S. Carton (Eds.), The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky: Vol. 1. Problems of general psychology (pp. 39- 285). New York: Plenum Press. (Original work published 1934).

    Google Scholar 

  • Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Sage Journals, 7(2), 225–246.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wenger, E. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wenger, E. (2006). Communities of practice: A brief introduction. https://www.academia.edu/6189864/Communities_of_Practice_A_Brief_Introduction. Accessed 14 October 2015.

  • Wenger, E. (2012a). Communities of practice and social learning systems: The career of a concept. http://wenger-trayner.com/resources/publications/cops-and-learning-systems/. Accessed 30 August 2015.

  • Wenger, E. (2012b). Communities of Practice: A brief introduction, http://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/06-Brief-introduction-to-communities-of-practice.pdf. Accessed 23 August 2015.

  • Wenger-Trayner, E. (2014). Learning in landscapes of practice: Boundaries, identity, and knowledgeability in practice-based learning. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wenger, E., White, N., & Smith. (2009). Digital habitat: Stewarding technology for communities. Portland, Oregon: CPSquare.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wertsch, J. V. (2009). Vygotsky and the social formation of mind. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Bernadette Mercieca .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2017 Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Mercieca, B. (2017). What Is a Community of Practice?. In: McDonald, J., Cater-Steel, A. (eds) Communities of Practice. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-2879-3_1

Download citation

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-2879-3_1

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Singapore

  • Print ISBN: 978-981-10-2877-9

  • Online ISBN: 978-981-10-2879-3

  • eBook Packages: EducationEducation (R0)

Publish with us

Policies and ethics