The Community Club

Cover image for Community of Practice (CoP)
Oliver Ding
Oliver Ding

Posted on • Updated on

Community of Practice (CoP)

There are many theories of Community, my favorite one is Community of Practice (CoP) which is developed by Etienne Wenger in 1998. Originally, the theory is designed as a brand new theory of learning. In a 1991 book Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger expand the traditional connotations of the concept of apprenticeship - from a master/student or mentor/mentee relationship to one of changing participation and identity transformation in a community of practice. In the 1998 book, the concept of Community of Practice became the center and a core of a social theory of learning. Later, organizational managers adopt it for knowledge management and turn it into a theory of community building.

A Community of Practice (CoP) is a special type of community. According to Wenger, "A residential neighborhood, for instance, is often called 'the community' but it is usually not a community of practice. Playing scales on the piano is often called practice - as in 'practice makes perfect' - but it does not define what I called a community of practice." In order to associate practice and community, Wenger emphasizes three dimensions of CoP: 

  • Mutual engagement of participants: Practice does not exist in the abstract. It exists because people are engaged in actions whose meanings they negotiate with one another. (p.73)
  • Negotiation of a joint enterprise: Participants must find a way to do something together, and even living with their differences and coordinating their respective aspirations. (p.79)
  • Shared repertoire: The elements of the repertoire can be very heterogeneous. They gain their coherence not in and of themselves as specific activities, symbols, or artifacts, but from the fact that they belong to the practice of a community pursuing an enterprise. (p.82)

The subtitle of Communities of Practice is Learning, Mearning, and Identity. Wenger spend the Part II to discuss the concept of Identity with four chapters. He point out, "Issues of identity are an integral aspect of a social theory of learning and are thus inseparable from issues of practice, community, and meaning." In particular, he claim identity as negotiated experience, community membership, learning trajectory, and nexus of multi-membership. (p.149)

Click the link below to see the diagram about the three dimensions:

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Sarah-Crafter/publication/41557795/figure/fig1/AS:394199284371469@1470995841688/Dimensions-of-practice-as-the-property-of-a-community-Wenger-1998-p73.png

You can also check out the term on Wikipedia:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_of_practice

Discussion (2)

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Simon Tomes • Edited

Thanks for sharing, Oliver.

I enjoy how a good CoP helps a group of people learn from each other. I've seen this happen internally at a company I once worked at – it was set up to help folks feel comfortable to share their learnings and ask questions.

The diagram reminds me of some of the elements of Emily Webber's excellent book, "Building Successful Communities of Practice".

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Oliver Ding Author

I had wonderful experience of CoP too. However, what I got is not inside a company, but on the Internet. I learned skills and knowledge about the web by joining a social web community. Now I work for a web/mobile development startup as an interaction designer and a product manager.

I have read Emily Webber's book too. She is inspired by Wenger.