Virtual Communities of Practice

Virtual Communities of Practice

Diane-Gabrielle Tremblay (Université du Québec, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch671
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Communities Of Practice

The term ‘communities of practice’ was first used by Brown and Duguid (1991) and by Lave and Wenger (1991), and it was popularized more widely in two major works (Wenger et al., 2002, 2000). It refers to the idea of sharing information and knowledge within a small group, as well as to the value of informal learning for a group and an organization. In our research, as is usually the case today, we consider people use technologies (computer, cell phone, ipad, etc.) to be in relation and exchange with each other, but also to keep track of some information and knowledge the group wants to stock. Wenger et al. (2002, p.4-5) describe a community of practice as a group of participants who:

“Don’t necessarily work together every day, but they meet because they find value in their interactions. As they spend time together, they typically share information, insight, and advice. They help each other solve problems. They discuss their situations, their aspirations, and their needs. They ponder common issues, explore ideas, and act as sounding boards. They may create tools, standards, generic designs, manuals, and other documents – or they simply develop a tacit understanding that they share. However they accumulate knowledge, they become informally bound by the value that they find in learning together. This value is not merely instrumental for their work. It also accrues in the personal satisfaction of knowing colleagues who understand each other’s perspectives and of belonging to an interesting group of people. Over time, they develop a unique perspective on their topic as well as a body of common knowledge, practices, and approaches. They also develop personal relationships and established ways of interacting. They may even develop a common sense of identity. They become a community of practice.”

In the 90s, observers mainly studied informal communities that were created spontaneously in a workplace. However, over the years and since 2000 particularly, there has been increasing interest in creating and cultivating such communities in workplaces (McDermott, 2000, 1999; Swan et al., 2002; Wenger, et al., 2002). Many of these communities are teleworking communities that use information and communication technologies, and this was the case in the communities we studied.

The following definitions help us to better understand what this concept actually means (Mitchell, 2002):

  • Communities of practice are people who share a concern, a set of problems or a passion about a topic, and deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis

  • A group whose members regularly engage in sharing and learning, based on their common interests

Key Terms in this Chapter

Communities of Practice: the term was first used by Brown and Duguid (1991) and by Lave and Wenger (1991) , and then by Wenger et al.( 2002 , 2000 AU24: The in-text citation "Wenger et al. 2000" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ). It refers to the idea of sharing information and knowledge within a small group, as well as to the value of informal learning for a group and an organization.

Telework: work from a distance of the main office, either at home or in telework centers, generally using technologies.

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