Tag Archive for 'networks'

Dimensions of a community of practice

In their book “Digital Habitats“, Etienne Wenger, Nancy White and John Smith bring forward a model of three dimensions of a community of practice. I’ve found these dimensions very usefull in consulting about communities, exploring its value for the organization.

The three dimensions are:

  1. Domain
  2. Community
  3. Practice

(In their book, the authors have put the “practice” dimension at 2nd, but i prefer to talk about community and domain dimension first).

The domain dimension entails the subject of the community, the “domain of interest”. What is actually that the community is about? What are we going to talk about? More important: what are we not going to talk about? Deciding what the domain is of a community is often a proces of negotiation among its (potential) members. Possibly, there are also members leaving the community while its borders become more clear. Yet, this proces will also attract new members joining the community as its value has become visible.

The community dimension is about the people that actually members of the CoP. When talking about this dimension, i like to look at organizations from a networked perspective. It is important to no longer only look at organizations as hierarchy, more as a networks of people. Jon Husband calls this a wirearchy and points to the changes in power and authority. Looking at organizations from a networked perspective often shows you that the manager is no longer the central person, there appear to be other important hubs in the organization. The work of Valdis Krebs also helps a lot in this. These hubs are people that have great influence in the organization for their connections. When starting up communities, these people are really important.

The practice dimension is about “the way we do things”. A really interesting dimension and often also deeply grounded in the “culture” of a community that allready excists for longer time. Do you recognize coming into a new community (work, or city or football team) and really needing time to adapt, learn and understand how these people do their jobs, how they do their trainings. It is about tools, but i think it certainly is also about language and is definately also a dimension that is under negotiation all the time. Reflection is important to also be able to improve the practice of the community.

From all the dimensions above, it is important to realize that they are always subject to change. Forming and facilitating communities of practice is foremost a proces of learning in itself. Communities cannot be fully designed and standardized as products to be implemented. L&D departments need to facilitate a proces of change as they want to use CoPs in their organizations. Its a proces of learning by doing.

On groups and emerging networks

Last week’s conversation in the cck08 course has been on the distinction between networks and groups. Which is funny, because in his presentation George Siemens starts off by saying this is an unfair distinction as “they are the same”. Siemens tell is this because groups are a type of network. But aren’t we really talking here about the distinction of groups and the concept of “emerging networks” which i discussed in my previous post?

I get started to think that there is an interesting conflict underlying these two concepts and when overlook, often causes failure of designed learning environments. In this movie Stephen Downes elaborates on the differences between groups and networks.

“A lot of what people are presenting as online learning focuses on groups. I believe what online learning brings us looks more like networks” (Downes)

Groups are based on unity, coordination, closeness and are distributive in nature. Networks, according to Downes, are more diverse areĀ  based on autonomy and openness and are connective in nature. So groups are manageable, they can be coordinated by a manager or a teacher. Groups have closed walls and teachers will present knowledge to their groups/ class. Groups will therefore need technologies like learning management systems which allow teachers to offer their class structure and manage their learning in a close environment. Networks cannot be managed. Members (learners) are autonomous and their learning environment is not bounded by (physical) walls. Networks need technology like personal learning environments, blogs, e-portfolio’s.

The mapping of groups and networks with the technology that fits with their charecteristics was a real eye-opener for me. It made me think about organizations wanting to implement portfolio’s in closed learning environments, demanding employees to write a blog post every week and doing this in a shared blog (non autonomous!), etc…..

Thinking about the differences between groups and networks is not a very easy task, but its very worthwile for every educator/ learning designer to be aware of the distinct differences between those. We (or I) certainly need to do a lot more thinking on the matter, make it concrete for deeper understanding. Many web 2.0 tools are gaining loads of attention nowadays for their educational/ learning purposes. We need to question ourselves wether such a tool was designed for a network audience or if it was based group principles and in what sort we would like to use it.