On the Definition and Impact of Virtual Communities of Practice

On the Definition and Impact of Virtual Communities of Practice

Antonios Andreatos (Hellenic Air Force Academy, Greece)
DOI: 10.4018/jvcsn.2009092205

Abstract

The evolution of the Internet has made several Communities of Practice to go online and has brought into life numerous Virtual Communities of Practice. The purpose of this article is: to define and categorize Virtual Communities of Practice; to examine their social impact in general and specifically in knowledge and technology management; also, to examine the contribution of Communities of Practice to informal learning and to relate them to Connectivism and collaborative learning. Several case studies are presented to clarify the presentation. It is expected that Virtual Communities of Practice will play an important role in both learning theory and practice as well as knowledge management during the years to come.
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Introduction

Since the invention of the WWW, the Internet started changing everyday life in the Western World. The Web and ICT (information and communication technology) have given rise to new and flexible means of communication and interaction, which have affected traditional Communities of Practice (CoPs) in at least two ways: a) by transforming traditional CoPs into hybrid CoPs; b) by enabling the creation of new, purely virtual CoPs (VCoPs).

It has been stated that CoPs and consequently VCoPs are in fact learning communities. Thus, two of their most important applications are in knowledge management and informal learning.

VCoPs are based on Communities of Practice as well as Virtual Communities, and have inherited from both. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is:

  • To introduce Communities of Practice and Virtual Communities;

  • To study the creation of Virtual CoPs and the transformation of CoPs to VCoPs;

  • To define VCoPs, categorize them and present case studies;

  • To discuss about the social capital of CoPs and VCoPs;

  • To tackle the social impact of VCoPs;

  • To examine some recent trends in knowledge and technology management, related to VCoPs;

  • To study the contribution of VCoPs to informal learning;

  • To display the relationship between VCoPs and Connectivism.

The methodology is as follows: initially there is a literature review. Next we proceed to a definition of VCoPs and some important criteria for categorizing VCoPs, through case studies and discussion. Next we examine the application of VCoPs to knowledge and technology management through a case study. Next we examine the relationship between VCoPs and Connectivism. Finally we present some conclusions and issues for further research.

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