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Wenger (1998) highlights an obvious yet very compelling point that we are always learning and we are always participating in various communities from work groups to families. Therefore, learning is also situated in a community, therefore learning is also social (Wenger, 1998). It is logical then that the concept of communities of practice emerged from situated cognition (Brown, et al., 1989), previously discussed, and Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory (Vygotsky, 1978), that learning is enhanced through social interaction. In fact communities of practice in the work place produce significant learning and innovation (Brown & Duguid, 1991).

Specifically, Wenger et al. describe (2002, p. 4) communities of practice (CoP) as a group of people who share an interest, a craft, and/or a profession. These groups can either grow organically because of people’s interests in the same field, or they can be created with the goal of sharing and learning from each other (Wenger, et al., 2002).

Eloquently stated by Wenger (1998, p. 8): “learning is an issue of sustaining the interconnected communities of practice through which an organization knows what it knows and thus becomes effective and valuable as an organization.” Therefore, if a tool like a microblog, can help create, strengthen and sustain communities of practice it would be impacting learning and the effectiveness, or performance, of the organization. “Communities of practice are thus key to an organization’s competence and the evolution of that competence” (Wenger, 1998, p. 241). In fact, researchers state that they “have seen communities of practice improve organizational performance at companies as diverse as an international bank, a major car manufacturer, and a U.S. government agency” (Wenger & Snyder, 2000).

Wenger describes three key characteristics of communities of practice: domain, community and practice (Wenger, 2010). A domain does not equate to an area of expertise; in fact, members can have different areas of expertise within the same domain. Therefore, domain could be a field, such as education, which could have teachers, instructional designers, performance strategists all part of the same community of practice because “They value their collective competence and learn from each other…” (Wenger, 2010). Wenger (2010) goes on to elaborate in each of the three characteristics. A community is defined as a group of people who interact and learn from each other as they pursue their domain. Finally, communities of practice do in fact share a “practice”. In the example above, different people with different titles are still all practitioners in the domain of education.

“Communities develop their practice through a variety of activities. Table 3 provides a few typical examples:” (Wenger, 2010)

Table 3: Examples of CoP Activities

Problem   solving “Can we work on this design and   brainstorm some ideas; I’m stuck.”
Requests   for information “Where can I find the code to   connect to the server?”
Seeking   experience “Has anyone dealt with a   customer in this situation?”
Reusing   assets “I have a proposal for a local   area network I wrote for a client last year. I can send it to you and you can   easily tweak it for this new client.”
Coordination   and synergy “Can we combine our purchases   of solvent to achieve bulk discounts?”
Discussing   developments “What do you think of the new   CAD system? Does it really help?”
Documentation   projects “We have faced this problem   five times now. Let us write it down once and for all.”
Visits “Can we come and see your   after-school program? We need to establish one in our city.”
Mapping   knowledge and identifying gaps “Who knows what, and what are   we missing? What other groups should we connect with?”

 

Most people’s objection to participating in communities of practice is that they do not have time (Lujan & Day, 2010; McDermott, 2010), they consider participation to be something extra that they have to do, taking them away from the task at hand (Hara, 2009, p. 21). However, updating a post on a microblog, even if several times a day, can be done in a matter of minutes, and is therefore a minimal time investment. In addition, if employees found participation valuable, they would make the time. Isn’t the true goal of communities of practice to help with the task, or project at hand? Isn’t that the true just-in-time learning and performance support? It always benefits people when they can connect with another person who has experience and knowledge in a given area – there in lays the value.

This is a section of a research study, to read more, go to the Table of Contents.

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(A new TOC link will be inserted weekly until entire research paper is published)

Abstract

Chapter I – INTRODUCTION

Background

Problem Statement

Purpose of the Study

Research Questions

Significance of the Research

Chapter II – LITERATURE REVIEW

Informal Learning

Electronic Performance Support Systems

Microblogs

Theories

Situated Cognition

Distributed Cognition

Communities of Practice

Chapter III – METHODOLOGY

Yammer Functionality

Recruiting Participants

Materials and Procedure

Messages to Recruit Participants

Interview Protocol

Chapter IV – RESULTS AND ANALYSIS

Participant Characteristics

The researcher’s approach to the study

Research question 1: Does using a microblog in the workplace allow employees to become more aware of what each other is doing?

Yammer Experiences

Getting back to: 1. research question: Does using a microblog in the workplace allow employees to become more aware of what each other is doing?

Research question 2: Does the reading of status messages posted on a microblog lead to employees learning something new or receiving assistances with their jobs?

Interactions Because of Yammer

How Did Participants Find Posts that Grabbed their Attention?

Results of Using Yammer

Research question 3: Will the use of microblogs result in people feeling like they are part of communities where they can reach out to each other for assistance?

What Value Yammer Provides

Yammer’s Challenges

CHAPTER V – DISCUSSION, IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Introduction

Discussion of Results

Research question 1: Does using a microblog in the workplace allow employees to become more aware of what each other is doing?

Research question 2: Does the reading of status messages posted on a microblog lead to employees learning something new or receiving assistances with their jobs?

Does reading Yammer posts that prompt participants to reach out to each other contribute to learning and performance?

Does reading Yammer posts contribute to learning and performance when people don’t reach out to each other?

Connections, Learning and Performance Improvement

Research question 3: Will the use of microblogs result in people feeling like they are part of communities where they can reach out to each other for assistance?

Implications

Guidelines on How to Use Yammer to Maximize Its Effectiveness in the Workplace

Recommendations for Future Research

Knowledge Management

Expert Networks

Limitations of Study

Conclusion

References

A-cross-organizational-study

Renata E. Gorman
Teachers College, Columbia University

Abstract

In this day and age when knowledge workers are entering and exiting organizations practically on a daily basis, many organizations struggle with how best to arm their workforce with the knowledge they need to maximize their performance thereby increasing the organizations efficiency and effectiveness. This study investigated whether or not emerging social media tools like microblogs can be used by organizations to foster informal learning, provide performance support and ultimately improve performance through the creation and utilization of communities of practice. The hypothesis was that when participants used the tool to: 1. Post questions, 2. Answer Yammer’s question: “What are you working on?” they would reveal information that would inspire colleagues, in their Yammer community, to reach out and offer performance assistance. This would result in colleagues learning from each other and assisting each other and would eventually turn these groups into Communities of Practice.

Findings indicated that:

  1. Participants used the tool to post many different types of information, not just questions, and work activity updates;
  2. Participants did not generally reach out because of work activity updates but they did reach out to respond to questions;
  3. Participants perceived that their learning, effectiveness and efficiency were increased because of their Yammer use;
  4. Participants received assistance on the job through many different types of information that they post, not just questions and work activity updates;
  5. Participants felt supported by the Yammer community.

Keywords: microblog, Yammer, Twitter, informal learning, performance support, communities of practice, situated cognition, distributed cognition, knowledge management, expert networks

This is a section of a research study, to read more, go to the Table of Contents.

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