This issue of Learning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts focuses on the use of digital portfolios, or e-Portfolios to support learning. The series of seven articles evolved from presentations given at the second Australian e-Portfolio Symposium, held in Brisbane in early February 2009. Queensland University of Technology.
I’m glad that the always thought-provoking Janet brought this up. There comes a time when we need to really look at what the activity of learning really is. It is nice to find a new model every day that explains what X might be but unless we are truly analysing these models, implementing them, testing them, juxtaposing them, really, all we are doing is surfing the Web.
And as a side note, very few people I know have the chutzpah to title their blogpost “The clusterfuck known as social learning”. 😉
Janet quotes Gary Woodill:
Learning through the use of social media is a set of implicit assumptions that if people are using something called “social media”, then “social learning” must be taking place. This is a confusion of the means with the ends.
I think, when it comes to the new social learning crowd, we’ve got us a case of groupthink. I’ll be the first to say I’ve been part of the problem. However, I think we’ve got to slow down before we flood search engines with models that are not models and definitions grounded in little more than what someone else said.
From 2 of the leading researchers and writers on Communities of Practice comes this new study that studies the health and impact of online communities.
I absolutely can’t wait to get my hands on this research! Until then, here are a few blurbs from their article:
Though in-house networks of experts—or “communities of practice”—were once entirely unofficial, today they are increasingly integrated into companies’ formal management structures.
Today they’re an actively managed part of the organization, with specific goals, explicit accountability, and clear executive oversight. To get experts to dedicate time to them, companies have to make sure that communities contribute meaningfully to the organization and operate efficiently.
We’ve observed this shift in our consulting work and in our research.
To examine the health and impact of communities, we did a quantitative study of 52 communities in 10 industries, and a qualitative assessment of more than 140 communities in a dozen organizations, consisting of interviews with support staff, leaders, community members, and senior management.
Communities of practice for local government is a website that supports collaboration across local government and the public sector in the United Kingdom.
From the About section of the site:
This is a freely accessible resource that enables like-minded people to form online communities of practice, which are supported by collaboration tools that encourage knowledge sharing and learning from each others experiences.
Connect to Collaborate to Innovate
This is a community platform supporting professional social networks across local government and the public sector. It provides a secure environment for knowledge development and sharing through online communities of practice.
Lilia Efimova’s diagram clearly illustrates how a Community of practice distinguishes itself from a work team in that it goes beyond the structured boundaries of the team to seek out others with a common class of problems. That said, it is still semi-structured in that it is not driven by a common pursuit of solutions.
Team communication is heavily shaped by the shared goals and agreed communication formats/processes. It’s very much about getting things done together and strong ties that needed for it.
Communication in communities is a bit further from actual work, but still has lots of connection with it (e.g. Q&A mode, where one uses an opportunity of being together with other experts to ask for solutions for a problem). It’s usually a mix of stronger and weaker ties that help to open up and share local practices. There is enough commonality and trust to hold people together and enough diversity to support learning.
Network communication is more opportunity-based and informal. There is not much in terms of shared goals and recurrent conversations, the ties are weak or latent. However, there is enough connectivity and opportunities to communicate that result in cross-fertilisation and emergent ideas and practices.
Dr. Jacques Bughin of McKinsey & Company throws a question to how are organizations stimulating an influx of content. My own response to this question is the following.
One of the keys to pulling content from readers and turning them into participants is by asking relevant questions. For example, this particular blog post ends with a call for opinions. This is just one strategy used for stimulating contributions.
Another stimulator that I have come to find in my research on communities of practice (focus of doctoral research) is that one of the ways to increase participation in to offer up a problem that requires resolution to a community of experts and let them “hash it out” so to speak. It is amazing to see lively discussion being captured in a thread and see new perspectives emerge through discussion.
In learning environments, creating activities in discussion forums such as case study analysis, is a great way to pull in information.
Since Conversation Theory (see Gordon Pask) is core interest of mine, I have been researching exactly this question for a few years. At the moment, I am administering a booming prototype for a community of practice in the Aviation Industry.
The key is letting the participant know that their contribution is of value and has the potential to advance thought and/or practice.
Early analyses of user participation pointed to the importance of building large communities, creating effective incentives for participation and implementing more flexible forms of organization. Looking back a few years later, the good news is that active participation continues to spread. The bad news is that harnessing participation is more difficult than we thought. Stimulating a continuous flow of high-quality contributions should be the focus of companies that want to take advantage of user participation.
A few years have passed since those observations. Looking back, what can we infer from them?