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communities of practice

Page history last edited by Jay Cross 16 years, 8 months ago

Communities of practice


Lots of folks shorten communities of practice to "CoPs." Please add information of value to this community.

Learning is social. It takes place in the context of people with shared interests, "communities."

In school or workshops, the learning relationship is vertical: there’s a provider on top and a recipient. In a community of practice, peers learn from one another. Side-by-side and peer-to-peer replace top-down relationships.

You are now in the Unworkshop community. Feel free to call on anyone here for help or advice. And give unto others. Establishing communities may be the most powerful intervention you'll be able to offer your customers, so please take advantage of this one while you're here.

Also, unworkshop sessions end, but communities go on. You'll have access to our wiki for the next year and to the friends you make here forever.


"An ecosystem is more like a conference than a community -- indefinite, pluralistic, tolerant, and in constant flux" Kevin Kelly


 NB: Not all communities are communities of practice. See Clark Aldrich's definition.

In the beginning...

Tom Stewart on Communities of Practice (1996!)

Tools for Communities of Practice   tells how to use web 2.0 in support of CoP.


Etienne Wenger

Seven principles for cultivating communities of practice by Etienne Wenger and pals

Video interviews of Etienne Wenger on Communities of Practice

cp square, the community of practice on communities of practice

Learning as a Social System by Etienne Wenger


Communities of Practice: Learning as a Social System by Etienne Wenger

Just because communities of practice arise naturally does not mean that organizations can't do anything to influence their development. Most communities of practice exist whether or not the organization recognizes them. Many are best left alone—some might actually wither under the institutional spotlight. And some may actually need to be carefully seeded and nurtured. But a good number will benefit from some attention, as long as this attention does not smother their self-organizing drive.


David Weinberger and I see eye-to-eye on bottom up blogging as the source of the K in KM. "I continue to believe that for many companies the best path to blogging is by using them internally as a knowledge management tool. The dream of KM has been that people will write down what they know. KM regimes, however, have assumed they would have to discipline people into doing that. Blogs entice people to write down what they know and to share it widely. A project blog or a department blog not only surfaces and shares knowledge, it also makes it searchable and archives it. And once a company gets used to internal blogs, it's only natural (if anything about a corporation can be said to be natural) to open up some blogs to trusted customers and partners, bringing them into the intellectual bloodstream of the organization. And then why not open some blogs more widely? Thus companies inch their way into the blogosphere."
Awesome list of links on online community

Communities of Practice Harold's Furl Archive

Fred Nickol's Communities of Practice Resources

Wikipedia Community of practice

Tag CoP and Tag Communities_of_practice

CoP tools

Networking Among Communities of Practice

DMOZ links on communities of practice

Stephen Downes' Communities page



CoP roles from Dave Lee

Online self-organizing social systems: The decentralized future of online learning by David Wiley & Erin Edwards

recent SCoPE email on CoP of teachers: community-building gone wrong

 The Web 2.0 Bubble, Atlantic Monthly


the reason the best sites work: They facilitate behavior that people already engage in. Networks that make intuitive linkages or networks that are built


someone will figure out how to network the networks, linking social-media sites and thus allowing iron-man social networkers to commingle their friends, blogs, images, and video feeds all in one place. (MiNGGL, Socialgrapes, and Wink are three new sites already trying to do this.) Individual sites could theoretically block out these epi-networks, but at their peril. Or a new craze could emerge that cannot (for technological reasons) or does not (for corporate reasons) sync with sites like MySpace, forcing users to divide their online selves in ways that become unsatisfying.


Indeed, the third rail of social media may ultimately come down to that most old-media of issues: ownership. MySpace may sell the idea of itself as being without boundaries, but in fact the digital mayhem lives within a tightly controlled environment. MySpace does not let users network meaningfully with people outside its walls, and it does not let them import some functionality that promotes or drives revenue to other corporations; for example, those newly popular “widgets” that contain text or video feeds, or games.


And, just as in high school, where the cool kids go, the rest of us will follow.






early draft of a white paper by Jay on Communities of Practice

August 2006



Communities of Practice Not.



This paper addresses getting the most out of workers who identify with one another professionally, groups some people call communities of practice.

I don't like the word community because it has a dozen definitions. When I hear community, I first think of a small town. What's intended is a group of people with a common background or shared interests, such as the medical community.

Practice suffers from the same ambiguity. Practice makes perfect. Tennis practice. A practicing Catholic. But what's intended here is the exercise of a profession, for example a law practice. Yet some communities of practice, think of Alcoholics Anonymous or a bowling league, don't involve professions at all. That's why I'm going to write about groups, not communities. The groups I have in mind are workers who identify with one another because they do similar work.

Why groups matter

Groups of people who identify with one another, be they chefs or customer service reps, converse, share knowledge of how things really work, help one another solve problems, use the corporate grapevine to great advantage, and help new members get up to speed quickly. Sharing solutions with one another averts duplication of effort. Active social networks speed the dissemination of knowledge. Conversations in the community are the seeds of innovation. And work groups improve decision-making because "all of us are smarter than any of us."

"Communities of practice are the shop floor of human capital, the place where the stuff gets made," says Tom Stewart, currently editor of Harvard Business Review. "No one owns them. There's no boss. They're like professional societies. People join and stay because they have something to learn and to contribute. The work they do is the joint and several property of the group--cosa nostra, 'our thing.'"

Ten years ago, these groups were thought to spring up on their own, like wild mushrooms or shooting stars. And the common wisdom was to leave them to work their magic on their own. "Fertilize the soil, but stay out of the garden," cautioned social network analyst Valdis Krebs.

Now we know better. You can bring groups together, assuming you have people who consider themselves members of a profession and see the benefit of joining together. Some companies identify strategically important technologies and support the creation of groups around them. Others make it easy for people in similar jobs but different locations to connect with one another.

Optimizing group performance





Think of work groups as systems, as above. Inputs are news (by which I mean anything relevant that happens outside the organization) and experiences (which is what's going on and being dreamed up inside the organization.) Processing comes from conversations, finding experts and information when needed, solving problems, sharing discoveries, and speeding things up. Outputs are better customer service, continuous improvement, accelerated delivery, greater morale, and agility in taking advantage of change. To improve performance, we optimize throughput.

For the news input, instead of having everyone with an interest in, say, signal-processing chip technology, read through journals, research reports, the trade press, and blogs to keep up with the field, some companies designate one or two sharp individuals to track signal-processing chip developments and blog significant developments. People with an interest can subscribe to the blog feed or podcasts of sector news.

Other companies host community sessions where experts swap war stories with one another, with customers, with product managers, with scientists, and with others. Every interaction is captured on video; the video is broken into short segments that are made available to systems engineers and customers as video, slides, transcript, or podcast. All of this is searchable -- right down to the sentence level. Rather than looking at being interviewed for training content as a nuisance, the experts look forward to the semi-annual meet-ups with their peers.

For experiences, the inside stuff, package them as stories. No one gets excited by new policies and product specs, but everyone enjoys a good story. As Robert Scobel demonstrated at Microsoft, it doesn't take much technology to develop compelling stories on video or via blog. If people rate the stories as they read them, the cream will rise to the top so later on, people can skim the storybase for the great ones.

Web technology is an ideal way to facilitate group interaction, for example:


To optimize processing, community members need to know one another, be able to find people in the group, learn who knows what, have good social connections, and know who's available. Create spaces, real and virtual, that make it easy and enticing for people to meet. Post a "yellow pages" with thumbnail photo, coordinates, background, project history, interests, expertise. IBM's "Blue Pages," an outgrowth of an online phone directory is the company's most commonly used intranet application. In addition to expertise, Blue Pages shows geographic location, the local time, and whether the person is online. Call someone at IBM; if they aren't the right person, they can refer you to someone who is within a minute -- and IBM has a third of a million employees, 42 percent of whom are mobile workers.

I stuffed Practices, beliefs, and rules of thumb into a cloud because they will be stored in many places, including people's heads. Wikis are great as a repository, for they can be perpetually updated. Blogs and RSS feeds are wonderful for keeping up -- and can easily be stored in a searchable database. Information generated from the community is always more credible than information that comes from higher-ups. Informal tagging ("folksonomies") simplify locating information with everyday terminology. The cloud should contain documentation and outputs of past projects so members don't waste time re-creating something that's already there.

The cloud is invaluable for helping a new member get up to speed. This is a significant issue. Training is rarely up to date, is time-consuming, and often deals with theory, not practice. At IBM, close to 55 percent of the work force have been with the company for less than five years with many joining the organization through acquisitions. Many people are changing roles as the firm shifts from a sales to a service orientation. Easy access to the cloud is vital for rapid onboarding. A community provides the social structure for novices to become apprentices and eventually evolve into master craftsmen.

Resources like these don't build themselves. Appoint a wiki gardener to keep things current; it's a small price to pay, given the enormity of the payback.

Relationship with the larger organization

Professional groups are democratic. They often self-organize. They act on what their members consider right. And this threatens the authority of executives who thought they called the shots. Some organizations even think informal groups are subversive, trying to "beat the system" by making up their own rules. Other organizations are unaware that worker communities are shouldering most of the burden of keeping their members on top of things.

Enlightened organizations support their worker groups by making time for them, setting aside resources to build social networks and "cloud" infrastructure, and recognizing their accomplishments. Cisco, CGI, and others have built groups around the technologies that are strategically important to them. Finally, companies that are merging or making total make-overs have used informal groups to assist in organization transformation.

Our Unworkshops are a living laboratory for prototyping these ideas.

This essay is a work in progress. Please make suggestions.

from Stephen Downes

The concepts of learning and community are almost inseparable, even for the self-study student.


Why the emphasis on community?

First, because a community supports improved learning. Collaboration and discussion expose people to new ideas and outlooks. The collaboration that occurs in environments such as classrooms and communities, as Wienicki says, is necessary for the process of shared cognition', the idea that a group of people can create a more complete understanding than a single person working on his or her own.

Second, a community generates a sense of commitment not created merely by an individual working on their own with the content. As Rheingold notes, "People everywhere seem more interested in communicating with each other than with databases." (http://www.Rheingold.com/vc/book/) People working in communities have a deeper sense of commitment to the process and the product, whether in learning or any other endeavor.

Third, learning in communities promotes what may be called learning beyond the content. In particular, learning in communities teaches a person how the content may be applied in a wide variety of situations, and communities provide these examples. The community becomes what Wegner called a 'community of practice', and the student learns "the practices of a field, its social organization, and its mores". (Gordin, et.al., http://www.ascusc.org/jcmc/vol2/issue3/gordin.html )

And fourth, learning communities help reduce the workload of those providing instruction by allowing students to help each other and by allowing an instructor to help many students at once. Russ Albery writes, asking students to participate in communities, "you're giving more people the chance to help you (and) you're helping all the people who come after you that may have the same question." (http://www.eyrie.org./~eagle/faqs/questions.html)


What makes a community successful?

First, a community has to be about something. I remarked in this in a recent paper when, as a critique of Orkut (http://www.orkut.com) I said, "there is no 'there' there." (http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/website/view.cgi?dbs=Article&key=1076791198) A community must be centered around some topic or activity, or as Hegel and Armstrong (Net.Gain) say, they need a "distinct focus".

Second, there must be, as Figallo (Hosting Web Communities) says, a creation of the sense of the whole. Members need to feel that they belong to something larger than themselves, that there is a web of relationships between the members. This requires an ongoing exchange - of messages, of thoughts - between the members, and the fostering of relations that last through time.

Third, content and communication must form a seamless whole, that is, the two must be integrated. On discussion lists, people complain when members go off topic or "hijack a thread". In successful communities, such as Slashdot (http://www.slashdot.org) , the conversation is regularly 'seeded' with content and activities proposed by moderators. Communities such as IFETS (http://ifets.ieee.org) or ITForum (http://it.coe.uga.edu/itforum/index.html) typically centre conversation around a discussion paper.

Fourth, there must be an appreciation of participant contributions. One of my major criticisms of the Poynter online community (http://www.poynter.org) is that contributions submitted to the discussion board seem to languish, never being read, not even by site organizers. A person needs to feel like a somebody on an online community, to have a persistent and unique identity, to see themselves reflected in the whole.

Fifth, a community is sustained only through ongoing communications. It must be remembered that communication and interaction are the primary objectives of a community, not an adjunct or secondary activity.

Sixth, a successful community empowers its members. This is especially important in learning, where a community enables student to build their own learning. But to make this happen, community organizers must provide access to resources and information. As Gordin, et.al., write, "when students are engaged in school-based learning communities they must do more than be passive collectors of previously digested information." They must be encouraged and supported in the creation of something new. ". (Gordin, et.al., http://www.ascusc.org/jcmc/vol2/issue3/gordin.html )

Seventh, a learning community in particular must have an educational orientation. As activities, resources and support are added to the community environment, they need to be structured with a pedagogical purpose. In a community with static membership, this means a gradual progression toward more complexity and deeper discussion. In a dynamic community, where members come and go, this means providing from time to time introductory materials along with the more advanced (this is why you see communities like WWWEDU regularly redistribute their FAQ).

And finally, eighth, a successful community will have a sense of history. Such a community does not begin and end with the classroom. It is something that members have a reasonable expectation will endure beyond a particular course or class, and that the contributions and connections made will have a lasting impact. A community should have an archive, created by earlier students, that later students can build on.

Thanks to its long history, we know quite a lot about online communities. As part of their tremendously useful Moderators HomePage (http://www.emoderators.com/moderators.shtml) , for example, Collins and Berge link to documents like Howard Rheingold's 'Art of Hosting Good Conversations Online' (http://www.emoderators.com/moderators/artonlinehost.html ) containing not just good advice ("both civility and nastiness are contagious") but thoughts on the nature of such environments (the idea, for example, that a discussion area is grown, not built).

Yet for all that, it seems to me that there remains a great deal of misunderstanding regarding the role and implementation of online discussion and online communities in online learning.

Probably the greatest misapplication of online community lies in the idea that it is an adjunct to, or following from, the creation and design of an online course. This is perhaps most clearly exemplified by the existence in itself of course discussions. In more institutions that I can count, when a course is offered online, the discussion community is created with the first class and disbanded with the last. The community owes its existence to the course, and ends when the course does.

This relation of dependence is reflected in the design of learning management systems such as Blackboard and WebCT. In these environments, the course structure provides the primary means of navigation, and as the students (in a group) traverse the material from topic to topic, they are sent to a discussion area to answer (usually) predefined questions. Even authors with a good perspective on the importance of community ask questions like, "What are the educational advantages of supplementing a course with on-line discussion tools?" (http://tlt.its.psu.edu/suggestions/discuss/)

The design of these learning management systems also reinforces the idea that discussion is not central to the course, that it is something tacked on. One 'leaves' the course material (usually via the main menu) to go to the 'discussion area' (imagine, by analogy, if once a professor finished his lecture the entire class got up and walked across the hall to the 'discussion room').

If there is a single point that I would like to make in this article, it is that the relation ought to be the other way around: that the course content (much less its organization and structure) ought to be subservient to the discussion, that the community is the primary unit of learning, and that the instruction and the learning resources are secondary, arising out of, and only because of, the community.

Nancy White on Blogs & Communities

Choconancy's Delicious links

Choconancy's Delicious links

Choconancy's Delicious links

Choconancy's Delicious links

"My own view, itself derived from complexity theory is that you need to create an environment in which people can play with multiple tools, moving some of the results to a formal environment, when and if needed. With the growth of social computing and familiarity with those tools this easy to achieve. "This is called clustering (putting together different informal communities) or swarming (creating an attractor mechanism and seeing what comes). Formal communities need to have a cycle of destruction and rebirth built into them otherwise they will be come a force of conservatism." Dave Snowden on CoP




Internet Time KnowledgeBase:



Building community is like gardening: you plant the seeds and pray something worthwhile happens. Fertilizer helps. Care is indispensable. But you can't force them to grow. Informal Learning -- the Other 80% Connections: The Impact of Schooling Who Knows?



Collaboration Supercharges Performance (presentation) Trends in Collaborative Learning (Macromedia Breeze) Silicon Valley, The DNA of a Community of Practice


Online Community Technologies and Concepts by Cameron Barrett

reputation management content management mail list management document management categorization collaborative filtering


Robin Good is Mr. Online Collaboration. He spends more than half his time online and probably knows more about online collaboration tools than anyone else on the planet. The Robin Good/Robin Hood connection is apt, for he shares lots of information on his sites: Kolabora and Master New Media.

Robin Good kicks off Competitive Edge. We are there.

A Manifesto for Collaborative Tools by Eugene Eric Kim


Internet Time Group on building community (dated)

Beyond One-to-One: The Power of Purposeful Communities, ArsDigita Building an Online Community (book), ArsDigita

Learnativity on Building Community

Online Community Report

Nine Timeless Design Strategies for Community Building

(Amy Jo Kim)

Doblin Group's community bibliography

Joel Udell's Internet Groupware for Scientific Collaboration is a comprehensive guide to software for coordinating events, discussing issues, publishing findings, and making & distributing news.

These Sites Make Teams Work, Fast Company's comparison of five Web-based tools that are designed to help teams work better.

Distributed Learning Communities, CU Denver The Nature of Nets, Doblin Group Collaborative Strategies -- great case studies and astute analysis by SF consulting firm. groupware gurus.


Cafe Knowhow from The World Cafe (Juanita Brown) Howard Rheingold handpaints his shoes, here's his Virtual Community group jazz hosts events Electronic Learning Communities Research Group at Georgia Tech. (Amy Bruckman) Online Discussion Groups

Resources for Moderators and Facilitators of Online Discussion (Collins and Berge)

Yet, there are times when people need to see each other face-to-face for optimal learning. What are these?

Teambuilding—True teambuilding means being together—at the same place. Building trust, a sense of purpose, and commitment to outcomes requires an intimacy not possible through technology at this time.

Personal coaching—Feedback and coaching around performance issues is difficult, if not impossible, if the climate of trust and respect hasn’t been built in real-time, face-to-face.

Networking/Teaming—Getting a sense of an individual, exchanging thoughts and ideas, and crafting the invisible links that tie a network together require engaging the senses in the interaction.

Building culture—Organizational culture is built on a shared commitment to values. The shaping of these values to inspire and motivate performance need multiple face-to-face contacts with all involved—thinking, doing, acting, and reacting to embed the cultural values in each person.

The Invisible Key to Success, Fortune, Tom Stewart (1996)

Denham Grey's Knowledge Community has a great and growing selection of links on communities of practice, who's doing what, and who the players are. See also his Collaboration Tools (How can you have community without collaboration?)

Convergence is coming....

On-line Collaborative Learning Environments, a special issue of Journal of International Forum of Educational Technology & Society

Is "virtual community" just a Ponzi scheme?

Participating on The WeLL taught me more about community than anything since. They have a deal (until 3/31/01) where you can try it out for $2. Use me as your reference (jaycross@well.com).The WeLL was acquired. The only way I could maintain my email address and access was to purchase Salon Premium. Good bye, old friend.

Rheingold Associates


Community Building on the Web : Secret Strategies for Successful Online Communities by Amy Jo Kim. ISBN: 0201874849 . $29.99. Check out the companion web site.

Don't leave out the fun.




The Social Life of Information by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguit (2000).

Well-written argument that ontent is not king. The refuge of simplistic infocentric futurists: demassification, decentralization, denationalization, despacialization, disintermediation, and disaggregation.

Jay's notes on The Social Life

Communities of Practice: The Organizational Frontier

Harvard Business Reivew, 1/1/00 by Etienne C. Wenger & William M. Snyder

A new organizational form is emerging in companies that run on knowledge: the community of practice. And for this expanding universe of companies, communities of practice promise to radically galvanize knowledge sharing, learning, and change. A community of practice is a group of people informally bound together by shared expertise and passion for a joint enterprise.

Communities of practice can drive strategy, generate new lines of business, solve problems, promote the spread of best practices, develop people's skills, and help companies recruit and retain talent. The paradox of such communities is that although they are self-organizing and thus resistant to supervision and interference, they do require specific managerial efforts to develop them and integrate them into an organization.



Fred Nichols on Communities of Practice (2000)

Nurturing Three Dimensional Communities of Practice: How to get the most out of human networks, Knowledge Management Review, Richard McDermott, PhD (1999)

Key Hypotheses in Supporting Communities of Practice by John Sharp (1997)


In February 2004, I finally got an opportunity to hear Etienne Wenger in person and spend a little time chatting with him.

Etienne Wenger is a social learning theorist who cut his teeth at the Institute for Research on Learning. He is best known for popularizing the concept of communities of practice. His presentation spoke to me deeply.


Communities of practice are not new. The earliest version may have been cavemen sitting around a fire talking about the best way to hunt bears. That’s the way “communities” work: practitioners in a field or practice come together to share, nurture, and validate tricks of the trade. Apprentices have always done this. Sometimes we mistakenly thought most of the learning was going on between master and apprentice. In fact, most apprentices probably learn more from one another.

Question: What does a flower know about being a flower? And what does a computer know about being a flower? Stumped? That’s because neither flowers nor computers are members of the human community, and it’s community that harbors knowledge.


A friend of Etienne is a wine professional. Describing a wine, the friend said it was “purple in the nose.” This meant absolutely nothing to Etienne, because he is not a member of the wine-tasting community.


Now imagine the wine-tasting friend is with his fellow wine tasters. He discerns a new element in the wine which he describes as a convergence of fire and gravity. If others in the group buy in, the fire & gravity meme is legitimized. Here we have the two primary aspects of any community: participation and reification.

By the way, the concept of community is value-neutral. The word community has a warm and fuzzy feel to it, but we’re talking about groups that can impede progress, engage in group think, or neglect their responsibilities to the larger organization. I recall being shut out of a community of instructional designers because I was perceived as a business man, not a designer.


Now let’s think about how eLearning might be a transformative force. Learning in a community involves answering four questions:

• Identity: Who are we becoming? • Meaning: What is our experience? • Practice: What are we doing? • Community: Where do we belong?


Learning by sharing knowledge in a community leads to what Etienne calls the “horizontalization” of learning. In school or workshops, the learning relationship is vertical: there’s a provider on top and a recipient. In a horizontal community, peers learn from one another.


First generation knowledge management failed because it was top down. (Identify the critical knowledge and stuff it in a content management system. Nobody took ownership because no community embodied the knowledge. Now that we appreciate that knowledge lives in communities, we can facilitate KM by nurturing their development. Etienne quotes Pasteur, saying “Chance favors those who are prepared.”


Etienne suggests scrapping our industrial model of training and the notions that go with it. Learning will become an internal part of live itself. Teaching will fade in importance. Progress along a trajectory of development will replace skills training.


The three aspects of social learning are the Domain, the Practice, and the Community. What, how, and who.

Related links: What is Knowledge, Building Community, and Informal Learning.


Googling out these references to past entries here, I found that I'd already recorded many of the concepts Etienne presented in Edinburgh. No matter. It took an hour  of live presentation for them to take hold in a transformative way.



cp square


Peter Senge: "Knowledge generation really only occurs in teams, where people engage in doing meaningful work." Teams are task-oriented and fleeting; they don't last. As the teams dissolve, people go off and reform in other teams. But they keep those networks of relationships, and they maintain those community ties." The Fifth Discipline... "was really about team learning and not very much about organizational learning. It took all our experience with member companies to recognize that communities are the place where this knowledge moves into, gets tapped, accessed, diffused and shared. Knowledge is contextual; it comes in the context of doing work. We send people off to training, we educate them, we give them tools and ideas. But that's not really knowledge generation. The real question is what happens when people try to use their training?"


Learning Organization (but read the above)


Dance of Change

Peter Henschel, in LiNEzine



The manager’s core work in this new economy is to create and support a work environment that nurtures continuous learning. Doing this well moves us closer to having an advantage in the never-ending search for talent.


By sheer force of habit, we often substitute training for real learning. Managers often think training leads to learning or, worse, that training is learning. But people do not really learn with classroom models of training that happen episodically. These models are only part of the picture. Asking for more training is definitely not enough—it isn’t even close. Seeing the answer as “more training” often obscures what’s really needed: lifelong, continuous learning in work and at work.

That is one reason why preserving the integrity of these informal communities is so important. The worst effects of downsizing and reengineering come from their complete disregard for communities of practice. The fact that training deals only with explicit knowledge, while the value is often in tacit knowledge, is another reason training can get at only part of what is understood to be effective. The other main limitation of traditional classroom training is that it is episodic and mostly relies on “push” (we want you to know this now) rather than “pull” (I need to know this now and am ready to learn it).


Another dimension to the community idea is seldom discussed, but critically important: Learning is powerfully driven by the critical link between learning and identity. We most often learn with and through others.

What we choose to learn depends on:

  1. Who we are
  2. Who we want to become
  3. Which communities we wish to join or remain part of.

So, not wanting to be like “them” can be enough to keep someone from learning. That fact seems to hold whether we are talking about company apprentices, high school gangs, or seasoned software engineers.


But it gets even more interesting: IRL studies, among others, have shown that as much as 70% of all organizational learning is informal. Everyday, informal learning is constant and everywhere. If this insight is true even in a bare majority of enterprises, why would we leave so much learning to sheer chance?

Slashdot Posted by JonKatz on Tuesday October 03, @12:00PM


from the de-bunking-the-utopians dept. Berkeley scholar Joseph Lockard (a doctoral candidate in English Literature) claims the idea of the virtual community is a Ponzi scheme, promoted by benighted utopians and elitists who equate access to the Net and the Web with social and democratic enlightenment. This myth has been virtually unchallenged for years, he says, and in a provocative and interesting essay called Progressive Politics, Electronic Individualism, and the Myth of Virtual Community, Lockard claims that it's nothing more than a bunch of hooey. Does anybody out there think virtual communities are real?

Lockard's essay scores more than once. He's right in going after the hype that has surrounded the idea of the virtual community for years now. The tech world is rich and elitist, and becomes more so daily. Apart from developments like open source, which has done much to try and make technology more inclusive (though very few people will ever be able to successfully program) there are few signs yet that the Net is re-vitalizing democracy, or that virtual communities are supplanting or improving upon real ones. online, we see little organized concern for the technologically-deprived, or worry about the inevitable social divisions created by classes of empowered and tech-deprived people. It's already obvious that people with access to computing and the Net will have enormous educational, social and business advantages over those who don't; the latter face menial, low-paying jobs all over the planet.


Lockard also accurately points out that the largest communities forming online are corporate, not individualistic, and their agenda is marketing, not community. He calls the very idea of a "virtual community" an oxymoron.


"Instead of real communities, cyber-communities sit in front of the [late but not lamented] Apple World opening screen that pictures a cluster of cartoon buildings which represent community functions (click on post office for e-mail, a store for online shopping, a pillared library for electronic encyclopedias, etc.)" Such software addresses only a desire for community, Lockard writes, not the real thing.



...Certainly there are bulletin boards and mailing lists -- from sex sites to San Francisco's WELL, from media-centric gatherings from pet rescue forums to AOL's Senior Net -- that have functioned for some time as very real communities that foster conversation and mutual understanding, spawn friendships, generate support for members in trouble. Topical, community oriented Websites -- everything from Camworld.com, Kuro5shin and myvideogames.com to Slashdot -- function as information or true cultural communities as well -- sometimes for idea-sharing, sometimes for material support and information.


The early cyber-gurus definitely got carried away by notions that everything would become virtual, a mistake now shared by all sorts of panicked businesses -- publishing comes to mind -- and starry-eyed utopians. Cyberspace is definitely a new kind of space, but there's as yet no reason to believe that it won't compliment or co-exist with the material kind. So far at least, virtual communities suggest a Middle Kingdom, existing somewhere in the middle between the utopian fantasies and Lockard's dismissive jeers.


Online people do make powerful connections and the virtual realm does permit us to share information (including software), research and commerce and and encounter all sorts of people in all kinds of places -- something that has never been possible before. But when the dust settles, and if the history of technology offers any clues, people will always hang out with their friends, get drunk. They'll still be logging off their computers to have sex, get married, fight with their parents, send their kids off to school and go to the movies, and seek out the company of human beings to meet human needs. The best virtual communities have always complimented that need, not supplanted it.


Corporate Culture in Internet Time

By Art Kleiner


Anyone who has tried to create a culture knows it can't be done on Internet time. Cultures aren't designed. They simmer; they fester; they brew continually, evolving their particular temperament as people learn what kind of behavior works or doesn't work in the particular company. The most critical factor in building a culture is the behavior of corporate leaders, who set examples for everyone else (by what they do, not what they say). From this perspective, the core problem faced by most e-commerce companies is not a lack of culture; it's too much culture. They already have two significant cultures at play - one of hype and one of craft.

...during most of the 20th century, as companies matured into mainstream corporations, other cultures - those of finance, labor relations, marketing and managerial bureaucracy - eclipsed and overwhelmed the cultures of hype and craft.


It is currently fashionable to say that the old, tightly knit mentoring relationships of bricks-and-mortar companies are dead, that individuals are now responsible for their own development and career growth. Unfortunately, this view is not sustainable; there are too many risks, even in a high-growth economy, and too much human waste. The task of developing people will move away from companies, since they are not stable enough; it will move to the team level. In other words, if success depends on building a new "culture," that effort will have a lot more effect at the team level than on any company-wide level. It's reasonable to expect, in the turbulent e-commerce business environment, that companies won't necessarily evolve intact cultures. But teams do; as one e-commerce veteran puts it, they're "islands of stability in a place where nothing else is stable."


Ultimately, I suggested to Jane, all the organizational-learning techniques in the world wouldn't do her any good unless she were willing to go to her bosses, the startup's founders, and say something like this:

"If you let me build my own team, and choose and develop the people, I'm willing to take on [name of tough, challenging project here]. But I want to take our own development seriously. I want to try some new ways of organizing the work, regularly evaluate them, and try to learn how to manage ourselves in this new territory. After a few months, we'll come back together and see what we've accomplished, and which of those innovations might apply to the other teams around here. But it will only work if you give our team enough autonomy to learn from our experiments."


12 Principles for Designing an Online Gaming Community




  • Define the community's purpose

  • Create distinct gathering spaces

  • Provide rich communications

  • Implement a rankings ladder

  • Evolve member profiles over time

  • Provide online hosting and support

  • Offer guidance to new members

  • Provide a growth path

  • Support member-created subgroups

  • Anticipate disputes

  • Hold regularly scheduled events

  • Acknowledge the passing of time

It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know

Work in the Information Age First Monday, 5/2000 http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue5_5/nardi/index.html#n1

"It's not what you know, but who you know," could, paradoxically, be the motto for the Information Age. We discuss the emergence of personal social networks as the main form of social organization in the workplace.


NetWORK is our term for the work of establishing and managing personal relationships. These relationships can involve a rich variety of people including customers, clients, colleagues, vendors, outsourced service providers, venture capitalists, alliance partners in other companies, strategic peers, experts such as legal and human relations staff, and contractors, consultants, and temporary workers. These are fundamental business relationships in today's economy. As we have noted, studies that focus on narrowly scoped "teams" miss the vital work that goes into relationships that enmesh workers in a much wider, more complex social framework.


To keep their network engines revved, workers constantly attend to three tasks:

  1. Building a network: Adding new nodes (people) to the network so that there are available resources when it is time to conduct joint work;
  2. Maintaining the network, where a central task is keeping in touch with extant nodes;
  3. Activating selected nodes at the time the work is to be done.

NetWORK is an ongoing process of keeping a personal network in good repair. In the words of one study participant, "Relationships are managed and fed over time, much as plants are."


The reduction of corporate infrastructure means that instead of reliance on an organizational backbone to access resources via fixed roles, today's workers increasingly access resources through personal relationships. Rather than being embraced by and inducted into "communities of practice," workers meticulously build up personal networks, one contact at a time. Accounts of the "virtual" organization and organizations with flattened hierarchies have stressed the benefits of the streamlined, nimble, democratic workplace, responsive to contingency, empowering workers to make decisions quickly and independently. It seems however, that these transformed organizations also mean reduced institutional support, and that individual workers incur some of the costs associated with these corporate gains. In the Information Age, workers meet the challenges of diminishing organizational resources through who they know.

It is this discussion that has captured the categories we use to analyze the social impact of the Internet. The Internet has been drafted to serve duty as yet more evidence of the disintegration of "community", etc. As is sadly always the case in American intellectual discourse, complex social and historical issues get reduced as quickly as possible to simplistic binary oppositions which exclude by definition all the really interesting choices and developments (a good analogy here is our reduction of the categories used to analyze sexual behavior to either promiscuity or monogamy).



I do not believe the internet is an effective facilitator of community. And this fact is largely irrelevant to how we judge its impact on society. Instead, what the internet facilitates is friendship, and it does this in a very 19th century way - through writing. The modern replacement for traditional community is a web of self-chosen relations that can now span the globe. In this respect we are recreating the relations that existed among scholars and humanists in Europe before the modern era, except that now it is no longer just the elite that have this opportunity.


The development of friendship in this manner is I believe a very good alternative to traditional community, which, for all the "meaning" it bestows on life, is more often than not coercive, intolerant and closed-off. I see the disappearance of the one and the ascent of the other as a good thing, not something to lament. (Most of the intellectuals today whining about community would never put up with one in reality for a second, since they would never assent to the restrictions on their personal freedom that communities traditional require).

Participation Inequality

from Jakob Nielsen

A major reason why user-contributed content rarely turns into a true community is that all aspects of Internet use are characterized by severe participation inequality (a term I have from Will Hill of AT&T Laboratories). A few users contribute the overwhelming majority of the content, while most users either post very rarely or not at all. Unfortunately, those people who have nothing better to do than post on the Internet all day long are rarely the ones who have the most insights. In other words, it is inherent in the nature of the Internet that any unedited stream of user-contributed content will be dominated by uninteresting material.

The key problem is the unedited nature of most user-contributed content. Any useful postings drown in the mass of "me too" and flame wars. The obvious solution is to introduce editing, filtering, or other ways of prioritizing user-contributed content. One idea is to pick a few of the best reader comments and make them prominent by posting them directly on the primary page, while other reader comments languish on a secondary page. It is also possible to promote the most interesting postings based on a vote by other readers who could click "good stuff" or "bozo" buttons.

Collaboration is a lot more than communication and will eventually split off into a separate topic.



Value discipline

Where it shines

Source of shareholder value

Global focus

End stage


Discontinuous innovation

Early market

Infectious charisma

Shared vision



Product leadership

Early, bowling alley, tornado

Pierce competitiveness

Measurement & compensation

Caste systems


Operational excellence

Tornado, Main Street

Relentless improvement

Business Planning



Customer intimacy

Bowling alley, Main Street

Perceptive adaptation

Customer focus


From Clock of the Long Now


The Learning HIstory Project is a combination of story telling and corporate culture. Very much in tune with the work we did at Oral History Associates.


The e-Discussion Toolkit, suggestions for setting up and implementing online problem-solving discussions. "Since 1998 electronic discussions have played a valuable role at the World Bank. By promoting consultations with the public, they have furthered the vision of the Knowledge Bank, which is about putting in place systems for capturing knowledge more effectively.""


The Salon-Keeper's Companion

An Utne Reader Guide to Conducting Salons, Council and Study Circles —By Eric Utne

Throughout this guide the word salon is used to describe a wide range of ways groups can interact.

* Traditional salons like those that seeded the French Revolution tend to emphasize spirited group discussion. * Council, derived mainly from Native American traditions, emphasizes "devout listening" and unpremeditated speaking. * Study circles tend to involve reading and focused group discussion.



About Corporation for Positive Change

Corporation for Positive Change (CPC) is dedicated to the design and development of Appreciative organizations - those capable of sustaining innovation, financial well-being and market leadership by inspiring the best in human beings. CPC provides consultation and training based on the principles and practices of Appreciative Inquiry. For more information about CPC, or to contact any of our principal consultants, please visit our web site at www.positivechange.org.


David Bohm on Dialogue


Leveraging Communities of Practice: The Manager's New Core Work

by Peter Henschel 1999


What does all this mean for those who are in positions of coaching, shaping, and leading in the world of the new economy we are now in?


• The new work of managers is all about creating the enabling conditions for continuous learning, which is best done by supporting the informal communities in which it most effectively happens. That requires less control, more listening, more facilitation, and an enormous degree of support for policies and practices that, without the benefit of the lenses of the seven principles, may not appear to be efficient. To accomplish the above, managers will also need to shift their focus, perhaps changing their own identities as well. The shift needs to be

• From teaching and training to coaching, mentoring and ultimately continuous learning

• From selling only product to learning from customers

• From an infatuation with building innovative pilot projects — which seldom cross community boundaries — to building on existing pockets of innovation with explicit support to expand what's already working

• From "delivery" to natural "spread" of ideas and innovations.


It all boils down to some eternal truths, which many of our corporations need to remember or learn for the first time:


• Listening, observing, and understanding existing practices and informal communities are a prerequisite to effective management, change, and management of change.

• It is necessary to think of the whole environment in which learning needs to take place — the cultural, facilities, professional and intellectual aspects — as one designs and enables continuous learning.

• Facilitating greater, richer opportunities for those with whom one works is necessary to learn through the communities that already exist. Learning across communities and from one another requires special support and deep understanding.

• Supporting every opportunity for learning and honoring the power of informal learning is absolutely essential.

• Take risks and learn from them. Remember the eternal truth of healthy organizations: "It is far better to seek forgiveness than to ask for permission."


These principles and their implications are essential foundations for helping all of us cope, survive, grow, and thrive. To understand more deeply the issues addressed in this book, start by identifying and supporting the communities of practice that exist in your own organization. If we do not pay attention to the new management work — and what it demands of us — we face the reality expressed by Intel's CEO, Andy Grove: "There is at least one point in the history of any company when you have to change dramatically to rise to the next performance level. Miss the moment, and you start to decline."

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