Thursday, 30 August 2007

Dissertation complete!

Well, I've finished the dissertation - thanks to everyone who helped form my thinking by comments to this blog - you've been invaluable. Off to Morocco for 2 weeks now, will get straight back into the blog on my return. I've really missed blogging but had to focus on writing...

See you soon...

Helen x

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Informal learning - identifying bad practice

Being a huge advocate of organisations paying more attention to informal learning, I've been attempting to raise awareness with practitioners of project managers of possible ways of learning. Then I had a sudden crisis of confidence. What if they are learning not the most effective ways to do things, but are validating bad practice.

I'm not saying that this happens, just that it's a possibility. In any gathering where practice experiences are shared, it's surely possible that there are more novices than experienced practitioners. If the experienced practitioner is advocating a practice which is not necessarily the most effective way to do things, or indeed, advocating bad practice of some sort, how are the novices to know that they should not adopt that practice? How do they identify "good" practice, when they have nothing to compare it against? After all, we don't know what we don't know. And who has the authority to identify good practice.

I return then to the concept of communties and networks, as it seems that the more contact novices have with ways of working, the more likely they are to identify mulitple ways of acting, and so be able to make their own decisions about what is good and bad practice. Without multiple contacts with multiple ways of working, their options for choosing an effective approach are lessened, another argument for the concept of Connectivism and networked learning, as advocated by George Siemens. It also appears to indicate that any community of practice must have a mix of novices, experts and all those in between, which in itself has implications for the moderation or management of communities to gain the best result for organisations.

Is it then the role of the community facilitator or coordinator to maintain a mix of skills and abilities in any given group, and if so, how do they go about identifying these? Maybe a community coordinator can direct the make up of a community to some an extent, but the development of skills in critical reflection and relationship building is far more empowering, and may better enable novices to consider critically any practice they come across. In addition, skills in network development will help them identify more individuals from which they can learn multiple ways of working.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Community of practice activity

Those of you coordinating an online community will know how depressing it can be to see that your most active members sometime just disappear. This, according to Wenger, McDermott and Synder in their book, Cultivating Communities of Practice, is normal.

Active members may move away for a time, depending on time, life changes, lack of interest in current topics, all manner of reasons. Conversely, those who only read but don't take part in discussions, may suddenly become very active, posting and commenting when once they were invisible to all but those with access to site usage data.

My own community has been changeable in terms of participation, with people moving from very active to inactive and vica versa. The diagram below shows this movement across 2 months. The colour labels are to show the anonymised logons.

So it's comforting to know that people do naturally participate to a greater or lesser extent, however there is one important element that must be considered if this is to without the collapse of the community - that there is something to motivate people to move to a more active role.

Percentage wise, Wenger et al suggest that activity rates are as follows:

  • Core = 10-15% - participants who post, encourage activity, get involved often
  • Active = 15-20% - participants who are sometimes involved, ie commenting occasionally
  • Peripheral = 65-75% - people who read, sometimes known as "lurkers" - although this isnt a term I would encourage as these people are far more valuable than the term suggests.

Jakob Nielson's much referenced article on participant inequality indicates that this is a far higher level of participation than most sites experience. He suggests that the following is the case, and the following is more the case.

"User participation often more or less follows a 90-9-1 rule:

  • 90% of users are lurkers (i.e., read or observe, but don't contribute).
  • 9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time.
  • 1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions: it can seem as if they don't have lives because they often post just minutes after whatever event they're commenting on occurs. "

Those who read but don't contribute are important, as I have said before, but without the active and core members, there's nothing to read! This really is a problem if your community is tending towards the 90-9-1 percent rule, rather than the 75-15-10 rule that Wenger predicts.


although it's nice to know that your most prolific contributor leaving the group is not the end of the world, that others will change role and fill their shoes, without something to engage with, people won't move from their peripheral role to a more active level of participation.

The important thing then is to make sure your community is motivated by giving them a purpose.