Digital Communities of Practice (CoPs)

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A digital community of practice is a controversial concept
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  • Updated.jpg 23 Feb 2016


See also Community of practice (CoP) | Top Social Media Sites in Medicine | Using web 2.0 tools in health research at UBC

" ...groups of people who come together to share and learn - either face-to-face or virtually - are held together by a common interest in a body of knowledge and driven by a desire and need to share problems, experiences, insights, templates, tools, and best practices." - What is a CoP?

A community of practice (CoP) is a term used to describe groups who share a deep interest in a project be it their collective vision or a new direction for a discipline. A CoP evolves organically due to members' interests in a set of ideas that make up a domain and may be fostered through mutual knowledge sharing. It is through a process of sharing information and experiences that learning takes place thereby making it possible to develop personally and professionally (Lave & Wenger 1991). CoPs co-exist in digital contexts using social media such as blogs, wikis and web 2.0 tools. Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger described this learning perspective in the 1990s but the practice has existed for as long as people have come together to talk, share and create things. In 2009, Wenger, White and Smith recontextualized communities of practice for digital environments in their book Digital habitats: stewarding technology for communities. Of note in the book is the idea of "technology stewards" which recalls the importance of librarians and our work in the digital age.

Application of tools in digital CoPs

The choice of specific tools, platforms and features depends on the orientation of the community in which you find yourself. In Digital habitats nine possible community activities are identified as a way to create and promote a CoP:

  • organize regular meetings
  • have open-ended conversations
  • work on projects
  • work with content
  • acquire access to expertise
  • maintain relationships
  • stimulate unique individual contributions
  • cultivate a community
  • serve a context of users (as in a library).

Any community of practice only will be a true CoP when individuals communicate with each other. A CoP involves a set of frameworks, ideas, tools, information, styles, language, stories, and documents that community members share. For this to occur, the involvement of each member sharing news, ideas, events, tools, etc. is vital. A CoP is a body of shared knowledge and resources that enables a community, as a whole, to proceed efficiently in dealing with the information it generates to complete its work.

Digital workplaces


There is a lot of interest in digital workplaces as a potential vision for how organizations might work more efficiently and effectively but also build stronger digital working relationships with other organizations, for example in the support of open innovation. What are the characteristics of a digital workplace, and the major enabling technologies (cloud computing, mobile and collaboration) and what are the organizational challenges that need to be addressed in developing a digital workplace environment?

Some of the elements might be:

  • Ten features of a digital workplace (see diagram at right)
  • The business case for developing a digital workplace
  • Summary of the outcomes of the Digital Workplace Trends survey
  • The importance of an information management strategy
  • Skills and roles for information professionals in a digital workplace
  • Supporting virtual teams
  • The impact of mobile and tablet devices
  • Legal implications of digital workplaces
  • Scenarios for achieving a digital workplace

Seminal works in the digital CoPs

  • Lave, Jean, & Wenger, Etienne. (1991). Situated Learning; Legitimate Peripheral Participation (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991).
  • Community of practice was introduced in 1991; "Learning itself is an improvised practice: a learning curriculum unfolds in opportunities for engagement in practice." pg. 93
  • Wenger, Etienne, White, Nancy, Smith John D. Digital habitats: stewarding technology for communities. 2009.
    • Technology has changed what it means for communities to “be together.” Digital tools are now part of most communities’ habitats. This book develops a new literacy and language to describe the practice of stewarding technology for communities.
  • Wenger, Etienne. Communities of practice; Learning, Meaning and Identity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
  • Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W.M. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. "How to do it" informed by theory
  • Lave, Jean, "The Practice of Learning", p 3-32 in Seth Chaiklin and Jean Lave (eds) Understanding Practice; perspectives on activity and context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993). From preface: "Participants agreed, on the whole, on four premises concerning knowledge and learning in practice:
    • "Knowledge always undergoes construction and transformation in use
    • "Learning is an integral aspect of activity in and with the world at all times. That learning occurs is not problematic.
    • "What is learned is always complexly problematic.
    • "Acquisition of knowledge is not a simple matter of taking in knowledge; rather, things assumed to be natural categories, such as 'bodies of knowledge,' 'learners,' and 'cultural transmission,' require reconceptualization as cultural, social products."
  • Wenger, E. (2001). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity.
  • Kuhn, T. (2002). Negotiating boundaries between scholars and practitioners: Knowledge, networks, and communities of practice.
  • Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning as a Social System.
  • David Barton and Karin Tusting (eds.) Beyond Communities of Practice; Language, Power, and Social Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

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