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Peer Learning



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Communities of Practice (CoPs) are one form of peer learning. Not all peer learning happens in CoPs, but the framework that sits beneath CoPs can be a useful tool to plan, design and evaluate peer learning.

CoPs sit on a "three legged stool" of Domain, Community and Practice. What the community cares about, who is in the community and how they relate to each other and how they learn together and take the learning out into their lives, work and play.

Communities of practice are often identified as key ways for people to do professional development.

From: http://works.bepress.com/clem_guthro/1/ here is a little inspiration:

"Nine recommendations (for library CoPs for professional development) were made: (a) The importance of informal learning in professional practice should be recognized, (b) expectations of participation in VCoPs should be articulated, (c) how information should be shared should be articulated, (d) a knowledge sharing infrastructure should be put in place, (e) a culture of innovation should be encouraged in each library (f) a means of sharing between Oberlin Group VCoPs should be instituted, (g), integration of VCoP participation with Macalester’s core competencies and performance measures should be defined, (h) ACRL should further explore the role of VCoPs, and (i) ACRL should conduct a follow-up study."

FYI, a VCoP is a virtual community of practice - people using online tools to learn together about their practice.


Domain give a community it's focus. It is what the community cares about.

From Etienne Wenger, one of the creators of the CoP framework describes domain like this:
A community of practice is not merely a club of friends or a network of connections between people. It has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest. Membership therefore implies a commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people. (You could belong to the same network as someone and never know it.) The domain is not necessarily something recognized as "expertise" outside the community. A youth gang may have developed all sorts of ways of dealing with their domain: surviving on the street and maintaining some kind of identity they can live with. They value their collective competence and learn from each other, even though few people outside the group may value or even recognize their expertise.


Community brings us our peers, from who and with whom we learn.

Again, from Wenger:
In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other. A website in itself is not a community of practice. Having the same job or the same title does not make for a community of practice unless members interact and learn together. The claims processors in a large insurance company or students in American high schools may have much in common, yet unless they interact and learn together, they do not form a community of practice. But members of a community of practice do not necessarily work together on a daily basis. The Impressionists, for instance, used to meet in cafes and studios to discuss the style of painting they were inventing together. These interactions were essential to making them a community of practice even though they often painted alone.


Practice distinguishes CoPs from communities of interest or simple information sharing networks. People apply what they learn.

From Wenger:
A community of practice is not merely a community of interest - people who like certain kinds of movies, for instance. Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems—in short a shared practice. This takes time and sustained interaction. A good conversation with a stranger on an airplane may give you all sorts of interesting insights, but it does not in itself make for a community of practice. The development of a shared practice may be more or less self-conscious. The "windshield wipers" engineers at an auto manufacturer make a concerted effort to collect and document the tricks and lessons they have learned into a knowledge base. By contrast, nurses who meet regularly for lunch in a hospital cafeteria may not realize that their lunch discussions are one of their main sources of knowledge about how to care for patients. Still, in the course of all these conversations, they have developed a set of stories and cases that have become a shared repertoire for their practice.

Not Exactly "Community" -- Networks and Social Networking

Communities of pratice imply some sort of boundary. Today, we can be together in so many ways using web based tools. So we are no longer limited to smaller groups of people or to people just in our geography. We can loosely connect to networks of people with shared or overlapping interests. In these more open forms, community, domain and practice may be far more diverse than in CoPs, but many of the same principles and opportunities for learning exist. For example, an email list for local librarians may bring you in contact with librarians who have similar and different contexts than you. You may choose to read the mails of some, and ignore others, or dip in and out as time allows. Yet you have access to these other practitioners.


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