You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘community of practice’ tag.

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Hara, N. (2009). Communities of practice: fostering peer-to-peer learning and informal knowledge sharing in the work place. Verlag Berlin Heidelberg: Springer.

Hasanali, F., Hubert, C., Lopez, K., Newhouse, B., O’Dell, C., & Vestal, W. (2002). Communities of practice: A guide for your journey to knowledge management best practices. Houston, TX: American Productivity & Quality Center.

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


Knowledge Management

This research does not address microblogs as Knowledge Management Systems but the connection is important to point out for potential further research and microblog development.

Imagine that a person has found a solution, posted an updated with a link to that solution, and tagged his solution with a hashtag—a microblog’s version of meta data. He is now embarking on knowledge management, “the generation, storage, transfer, transformation, application, embedding and protection of organizational knowledge” (Hedlund, 1994, p. 10; Nonaka, 2005). Perhaps communities of practice can use Yammer to manage their knowledge. In fact, in 2000“…the American Productivity & Quality Center began to notice how important communities of practice were in creating, gathering, and sharing knowledge as part of formal knowledge management (KM) efforts” (Hasanali, et al., 2002, p. vi). To that end, they conducted one of the largest studies on communities of practice to date that included many public and private organizations.

Knowledge management is a term that received some negative press because many organizations spent significant amounts of funding on them in the 1990s and they didn’t quite work as expected. There are many reasons for this but two relevant ones are:

  1. People did not participate either citing time constraints or because cultural values encouraged them to hoard knowledge (Guptara, 1999). Taking a look at the popularity of Twitter, a public microbog, one can see that microblogs have solved this issue; in fact many people just can’t stop contributing (Nagle, 2010).
  2. The other challenge was that KM systems had a hard time ascertaining what a person’s context was and context is a critical component for an effective knowledge management system (Degler & Battle, 2000). One could offer a colleague a great paper but if it is not relevant to what he is doing or otherwise interested in, it will most likely, not be consumed. So, microblogs also have also solved the issue of context.

Expert Networks

Finally, organizations often struggle with figuring out who their experts are, but have begun looking at social media analysis for assistance (Fu, Xiang, Liu, Zhang, & Ma, 2007). For example, imagine if for a year, everything employees were working on was captured in their status updates through Yammer. What if the leaders of that organization could search for certain keywords and could see all the people in the organization who have ever, at least in that year, worked on something like that or are currently working on something similar? How much easier would it be to assemble the best project teams?

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

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 situated in a given context and part of that context is a given 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. The following table provides a few typical examples:” (Wenger, 2010)

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 status message on a microblog that doesn’t allow more than 140 characters makes the time it takes to update it, even several times a day, minimal. 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 accidentally come across another person who has experience and knowledge in a given area – there in lays the value.

Given that it is so easy to see what others are doing on microblogs, could it inspire people not just to reach out when they need help but also to notice if they have knowledge they can share with others? Can this notion of using Yammer to find experts and to offer expertise take off and become viral—infecting everyone, or at least many people in an organization? Can this model, if tested in an organization, demonstrate that members would find it valuable enough to keep up with Yammer to become self-sustaining community of practice?

Imagine the following scenario: An employee comes across a challenge, something he could really use some help with and his first thought becomes: to search Yammer to see if there is anyone else in his organization who can help. So he searches for a keyword and finds someone who he can speak with. He reaches out to this individual and before he knows it the two of them (or more) are helping each other and before they even realize it, they are now part of a community of practice.

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

As mentioned previously, microblogs offer something that is not normally easy to acquire, context to a very high degree through employees status updates. Therefore, the link between microblogs and performance support, learning and ultimately, performance improvement becomes clear. It follows that the theories influencing this research include situated cognition which considers context in learning and performance improvement, and distributed cognition, which also focuses on context and encourages a view of microblogs as a system, and finally communities of practice which can account for the groups that may emerge through microblogging.

See the table of contents below for more details on each of the theories mentioned.

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

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to examine whether the use of microblogs, a tool that easily uncovers context, can be used to provide performance support and therefore foster informal learning leading to performance improvement and self sustaining communities of practice.

Research Questions

Therefore the research questions are the following:

  1. Can microblogs like Yammer help organizations, uncover context in a fast, convenient, and cost-effective way, and therefore provide the means to implement just-in-time content delivery, informal learning and performance support?
  2. Can the use of a microblogs like Yammer help members of an organization increase their learning and improve their performance?
  3.  Will the use of microblogs result in self-sustaining communities of practice?

Significance of the Research

Microblogs have not yet been studied for their ability to increase learning and performance, and their ability to foster communities of practice and manage knowledge in and for an organization. Results of this study could advise many organizations that are unsure of social media and think microblogs are disruptive because they distract employees, to reconsider these powerful new tools that can help us all stay connected in a productive manner. In addition, developers of microblogs may consider knowledge management systems as they further develop these powerful tools.

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

Organizations make significant investments in creating training content. However, in this researcher’s experience of nearly 20 years in learning and learning technologies mostly in a corporate environment, and observed through an unpublished study, when given the opportunity to informally ask an expert or learn through formal training, a vast majority of people will chose to ask an expert. Social media tools called microblogs have emerged that can assist organizations in connecting people just when they need it.

A microblogging service allows users to send “updates” (or “tweets”; text-based posts, up to 140 characters long) via short message service (e.g. on a cell phone), or instant messaging. As an example, Twitter is a popular microblog that anyone and everyone has access to. This research focuses on Yammer, because it is a microblogging platform used by organizations that is secure—meaning that only people within the organization have access to it. Yammer asks the following question: “What are you working on?” People in an organization can sign up to “follow” each other to submit and read these short updates in just a few seconds. In a work setting, such as that of a training consulting firm, a consultant may find out that someone is “designing a new curriculum for advanced pharmaceutical representatives”. This consultant may read such an update from a colleague she would not normally reach out to. However, upon reading such an update the consultant may contact this colleague to learn more because she may be doing something similar. This could open up an opportunity to brainstorm, learn and share. As people continue to use the microblog, they read each other’s updates and reach out to help. “Imagine a world where everyone was constantly learning, a world where what you wondered was more interesting than what you knew, and curiosity counted for more than certain knowledge (Locke, Levine, Searls, & Weinberger, 2000, p. 183).” Maybe the colleague has a great research paper or framework they are using as part of their engagement that the consultant could learn from and maybe even use in her current project. This is an example of something that can provide the consultant performance support, informal learning and maybe even enhanced performance, and ironically, she may have never become aware of it otherwise. Therefore microblogs can be the ultimate performance support and informal learning tool. Proving support when employees don’t even know they need it, and offering a network of people, a community of practice, to reach out to when they do know they need it.

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


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. Social media tools such as microblogs are emerging and can be used by organizations to foster informal learning, provide performance support and help create communities of practice that result in employees enhancing their learning and knowledge and improving their performance. It is worthwhile thinking of microblogs in the context of situated cognition to understand that learning and performance are intertwined in day-to-day work activities. While distributed cognition helps us understand and view microblog users in organizations as one system that drives the collective forward.

This research aims to uncover that microbloggers in organizations enjoy enhanced learning and performance improvement through the use of the tool and that this results in communities of practice.

Finally it is also important to note that because microblogs can uncover context, manage content and provide access to experts, they could be examined in the context of a knowledge management system and used not just to manage an organization’s knowledge but also to find an organization’s experts.

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

Table of Contents
(TOC links will be inserted as content is written)
Problem Statement
Purpose of the Study
Research Questions
Significance of the Research

Literature Review
Informal Learning

Electronic Performance Support Systems

Situated Cognition
Distributed Cognition
Communities of Practice
Recommendations for Future Research
Knowledge Management

Expert Networks
Yammer Functionality

Materials and Procedure: Messages to Recruit Participants
Materials and Procedure: Interview Protocol

In my quest of looking for cognitive theories that apply to my research question: “Can microblogs help us learn and therefore perform better?”, I came across situated cognition. 

Situated Cognition

Situated cognition theory, developed by John Seely Brown, Allan Collins and Paul Duguid and described in Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning, states that knowing is inseparable from doing. In Situated Cognition & Cognitive Apprenticeships, Kevin Oliver explains it this way: “Situated learning theory and the cognitive apprenticeship model based on it suggest skills be acquired through authentic contexts and by communicating with peers and experts about those contexts.” This explanation really caught my interest because this is when I realized the connection between situated cognition and communities of practice.

Communities of Practice

“Community of practice (CoP), according to cognitive anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, is a term that describes a group of people who share an interest, a craft, and/or a profession. The group can evolve naturally because of the members’ common interest in a particular domain or area, or it can be created specifically with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field. It is through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that the members learn from each other, and have an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally (Lave & Wenger 1991).” Wikipedia

Community of Practice and Situated Cognition

“‘Community of practice,’ a concept emerging from situated cognition, emphasizes sharing and doing, construct meaning in a social unit (Roschelle, 1995). Situated learning occurs when students work on authentic tasks that take place in real-world setting (Winn, 1993).” EduTech Wiki “The theory of situated cognition…claims that every human thought is adapted to the environment, that is, situated, because what people perceive, how they conceive of their activity, and what they physically do develop together” (Clancey, 1997).” Situated Learning

Situated Cognition, Communities of Practice and Microblogs

Per the mini experiment I ran in my own organization with microblogs (see post), people answered the question: “What are you working on?”, and it allowed us to read each other’s posts and become more connected and notice when the other was working on something we could help with. So, any learning and performance improvement we enjoyed, was situated in the activity we were working on at the time. Therefore, per situated cognition, our learning and therefore knowing was not separate from doing–but was intertwined. The entire time we are working and blogging we are situated in the goal-directed activity and work environment. At the same time,  through microblogging, we were supported by our community, our community of fellow consultants, our community of practice–at least this is what happened in my mini experiment (see post).

However, as I discussed, in my last blog, in order to bring the sense of community to microblogs, another, external form of community has to be superimposed. In my mini experiment, this was my organization (see previous post). I am sure this is of no surprise because anyone who has explored the notion of community on a microblog like Twitter, without the superimposition of another form of community, knows that there really is no sense of community. Again see my experiment to create a community on Twitter in my previous post.

My Research Direction

Based on my research journey to date, I realize I really should do my experiment in/with a microblog community that does in fact has another superimposed community around it because that is when the group comes to life as a community, and, that is where situated cognition and perhaps even communities of practice are relevant. Therefore, that is where learning and performance improvement takes place.  The answer=a Yammer group. At first I thought an experiment with a public microblog like Twitter would yield the same results if used to answer the question: “What are you working on?” But I no longer believe that to be true because even in my organization, we had to stop publically blogging what we were doing for fear of violating confidentiality and with more and more social media policies against public microblogging popping up, the less this research is possible with Twitter.

Reni’s Twitter Updates