In a dynamic environment, knowledge is the only valid asset that allows organizations to adapt and change. That is why knowledge is one of the few resources on which any organization can support its sustained success. This resource, in its turn, appears as a result of a repetitive process of learning. Learning is a social product—knowledge is social and has synergic possibilities—therefore, its value increases when it is shared, enriched, and developed beyond the individual, proportioning coherence to the interpretations of the members of the group (Brown & Duguid, 2001; Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995). Many researchers have pointed out that the capacity of an organization to get into the environment, interpret it, and understand it, in short, to learn it, requires dialogue and discussion among its members. Through dialogue (Isaacs, 1993), each member exhibits a perception or personal image of the world, and these perceptions will affect the other members when they are shared during interaction. Together, the discussion of individual perceptions produces a shared image of reality. In addition, collective knowledge is a needed complement to the individual (Brown & Duguid, 1991). First of all, there are problems that require the integration of individual knowledge. Second, and not less important, collective knowledge implies that the members of an organization that share it are going to act according to the same criteria and that makes the organization predictable beyond individual contingences. For example, it is of little use for a driver to know the obligation to drive on the right if the others do not know such obligation (as anyone who has driven in countries where they drive on the left will have been able to confirm at the slightest distraction). It is collective knowledge that supplies standards of conduct whose validity stems precisely from the fact that it is collective. The idea of social construction of knowledge links it to the communities that create, use, and transform it. According to this, if learning is the result of personal experience and processes of interaction among individuals, this should be understood in relation to the social and cultural context in which these experiences and interactions take place, that is, in relation to communities of practice.
The concept of community of practice was originated in the context of a social theory of learning. Contrary to the idea that human learning occurs in isolation, a social theory of learning insists on the situated nature of human cognition and, thus, in learning as embedded in social practice (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Virtual Organization: An organization existing as a corporate, not-for-profit, educational, or otherwise productive entity that does not have a central geographical location and exists solely through telecommunication tools.
Knowledge: It is defined (Oxford English Dictionary) variously as (i) facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject, (ii) what is known in a particular field or in total; facts and information, or (iii) awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation.
Organizational learning: An area of knowledge within organizational theory that studies models and theories about the way an organization learns and adapts.
Situated Learning: A model of learning first proposed by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991 AU20: The in-text citation "Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ). It suggests that all learning is contextual, embedded in a social and physical environment.
Knowledge Management: KM comprises a range of practices used by organizations to identify, create, represent, and distribute knowledge for reuse, awareness, and learning. It has been an established discipline since 1995 with a body of university courses and both professional and academic journals dedicated to it.
Knowledge Transfer: In the fields of o and organizational learning, knowledge transfer is the practical problem of getting a packet of knowledge from one part of the organization to another (or all other) parts of the organization.