Learning Communities of Practice

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Sumant Joshi October 28, 2020
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“When people of the same professional interests gather together and add to each other’s knowledge is an ideal community of practice.” 

In our latest podcast episode with Gautam Ghosh, Consultant-Digital & Social HR at HONO, we talked about corporate learning, its pros and cons, and the value of having a learning community of practice focused on helping professional peers to come together and share an area of interest to learn and grow together in their professional journey. In this blog, we revisit some of the key points and how a community of practice can value-add to an individual’s learning journey.

In today’s knowledge-based economy, global businesses strive relentlessly to capitalize on their ‘knowledge-base’ to gain a competitive advantage, be it IPs, patents, or big data. Knowledge-sharing across functions, customer-facing teams, and leadership as a whole has historically helped business to cultivate and propagate innovative ideas, and while the approach of organizing and sharing the knowledge keeps evolving day-by-day, a new approach promises to complement the existing process and stimulate knowledge sharing further has emerged - Community of Practice.

A Community of Practice can be defined as ‘a group of professional individuals who share a common interest to resolve an issue, improve skills and learn from each other’s experiences.’

A more detailed or elaborate definition can also be – ‘a group of professionals informally bound to one another through exposure to a common class of problems, common pursuit of solutions, and thereby themselves embodying a store of knowledge.

Lave and Wenger first came up with the term ‘community of practice’ in 1991, and described it as a learning theory that has a strong interconnection with the social element of knowledge. The community of practice often involves professionals that interact to pursue a common practice. And, it is this collective practice that connects the members across professional or organizational boundaries to make up the community.

“Whole point of a community of practice being different from a social network is that a community of practice centers on an interest area.”

As Gautam highlights, a community of practice should not be confused with an extension of the social network. Unlike a social platform, a community of practice might require the members to meet regularly, or connect virtually or via e-mail. The structure may not be rigid as to the agenda any given week or month, however the members in a community must share knowledge in a free-flowing form to foster newer ways of thinking and problem-solving.

As learning is often seen as birthing from the social practice of becoming a ‘doer’, it gives each member the social context of being understood and inspired inside the community that shapes each member’s views and understanding of the world. Learning and knowledge creation can thus happen within the community, which can then be shared socially.

Listen to Gautam Ghosh’s podcast to learn more about learning community of practice.

For more podcasts about leadership, visit Leadership Spotlight.