Monthly Archives: August 2012

Different types of communities

During my PhD studies, I have become a bit of confused about handling different types of communities in the right context. Different types of communities, that have confused me, are for instance community of practice (CoP), professional community, learning community, professional learning community, knowledge-building communityvirtual/online community. Also I read about the concepts like knowledge community and learning organization, which were relevant for my own research. Sometimes it seemed that many of the concepts are overlapping and sometimes some of the concepts were used too loosely (e.g. any kind of community is CoP, although it has its specific features).

First of all the concept of Community of the Practice. Wenger and Lave has defined it as group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. It is important that people share the interest, members are engaged in joint activities and the members are practitioners who develop a shared repertoire of resources. How does it different from the professional learning community, handled in my thesis? Wenger has explained that in the context of professional learning community, for instance teachers come together for doing professional development in peer-to-peer learning context. Community of Practice (CoP), according to Wenger, is more broad concept. Some of the CoPs are not professionally oriented (for example people who work together for sustaining high school in country yard). CoP is a way of looking at a group, as a learning system and it could be applied to a family, hobby (they might even consider themselves as the CoP) and sometimes the professionalism is not key at all. In the context of professional learning community, we can talk about experts and learners, which is not relevant in the CoPs. And how does it different from the knowledge-building communities, proposed by Scardamalia & Bereiter, which are also relevant in my thesis? The key differences can be as follows, as proposed Hoadley (2012):

  • knowledge-building community is intentional, that is the goal of the community is explicitly on learning and knowledge building;
  • Source and the nature of the authenticity. It is presumed in both cases that a learner who is successful will be increasingly identified with the community’s practice as something they do and that defines their own lives. A knowledge-building community  may be investigating questions that derive from an individual’s curiosity or from initial teacher’s initial agenda-setting. A CoP that occurs naturally will not typically have a learning goal; these will emerge depending on the evolution of the community’s function and role within society. Hoadley and Kilner (2005) claim that once the knowledge-building community is up and running, it does not constitute a CoP, one in which the core practice is an inquiry one;

In the context of my thesis, technology plays an important role and the knowledge of the community should be stored and accumulated with the purpose of more effective sharing and learning. Technology is the mediator that supports collaboration and sharing. Kirschner & Lai (2007) discussed the nature of the CoP in the online settings. They marked that Web 2.0 approach supports more online CoP, because Web 2.0 tools sustain the needs for communication, socialization, networking and collaboration which is important for the CoPs. But in general they found that online CoP is a complex issue, because members don’t respect the advice from the members they don’t know (in the online settings it is possible) and they do not share their practice online (personal insecurities). Such implications are in common for different types of online communities, I think. Trust and motivation for sharing the knowledge have been under the investigation by the researchers for long a time. Hoadley (2012) proposed four techniques how people support CoPs with the technologies:

  • Linking people with others who have similar practices;
  • Providing some short of shared repository of information resources. While a simplistic view of knowledge might think that this repository is the knowledge of the community, the CoP sees such repositories as simply information that is used by the community in its practices (where the knowledge truly resides);
  • Providing tool for discussing with others. This is perhaps the most common use for technology in CoP: supporting conversation. Examples may range from a bulletin board used globally by members of a support group for a rare disease, to comment blog-posts in a password-protected blog for members of a professional association, online videoconferencing tool, …;
  • Providing awareness in a community of the information context of various resources. For example, an online bookstore might provide automated recommendations that would help a member of community uncover what sorts of books are typically read by the same people.

I was wondering if the technique “discussion” may include the reflection what I emphasize in my research. I kind of separate the reflection which personal and internal learning process and which includes learning from peers and their resources, but still it is internalized and discussion, which is rather collaborative and social process.

I liked the division of the online communities, proposed by Rice & Polin (2004). They describe 3 different (sometimes overlapping) types of learning communities to provide a common language for understanding the different forms of social organizations:
task based online communities – aims to produce a product or outcome and their members know each other. These are generally temporary groups whose members try to accomplish well-specified tasks. A small group’s interaction occurs among members of the group.
practice based online communities – voluntary participation. There is a shared activity among members of the community to produce knowledge. Tacit knowledge is shared among members.
knowledge based online communities – aim of this type of learning communities is to compose knowledge based on a specific area. Members of it may or may not know each other personally. There is a long-term commitment to construct knowledge base.

In my thesis, in the teacher training context, I use the concept – extended professional learning community (of educators). Professional learning community, defined by Stoll & Louis (2007) is an inclusive group of people, motivated by a shared learning vision, who support and work with each other, finding ways, inside and outside their immediate community, to enquire on their practice and together learn new and better approaches that will enhance all pupils’ learning. It is extended community, which means that the community members are from different organization (schools, universities, ministry). As it is (partially) online community, then based on Rice & Polin (2004) division, the concept of extended professional community is the combination of knowledge based learning community and practice based learning community that composes knowledge based on a specific area, includes shared activity among members of the community to produce knowledge, members of it may or may not know each other personally and belonging to the community is based on voluntary participation. It is important that learning is embedded in the community.

As I said, I am confused about the using different types of communities in the right context. Even more I am confused and also interested in, is the sustainability of the (learning) community. I’ve experienced how the communities are initiated, but I have also experienced that communities become passive. How the processes in the communities should be organized for keeping the community sustained? How to keep the participants motivated in the community?