Thursday, 24 May 2007

Communities of Practice, Knowledge Management and Learning

I've been having hours of fun analysing the statistics from the use of the Project Managers Knowledge Collaborative - the blog I've set up for my MEd dissertation. I found something interesting in terms of the participation levels in terms of reading, commenting and posting.

The basis of my dissertation research is a group blog for Project Managers. They’ve been told to blog about whatever they feel would be relevant to their colleagues, but they’ve had no other guidelines (apart from "Be Nice"). Ideally, they blog about their experiences, sharing their tacit knowledge with others, so their knowledge can be managed effectively and visibly, and learning can take place within the community, raising the level of of Project Manager competency.

If we start with the premise, as stated by Lave and Wenger in Situated Learning: Legitimate peripheral participation, that people learn by the process of being active participants in the practices of social communities, that learning is situated, then membership of an online community should reflect the theory, that participation leads to learning.

In practice, a large percentage of activity on the blog is reading, followed by commenting, then posting. Taking the model of legitmate peripheral participation, this behaviour reflects the idea that the majority are peripheral but still valuable members of the community, some are active and commenting, and fewer still are core, doing the posting, sharing the knowledge, questioning and driving forward the practice of Project Management.

Someone by the name of Ruben posits the assumption that the use of social software relates directly to Wengers framework, and lists a number of hypothesis to argue this case in his post Learning 2.0. Particularly rellevant in this case is his Hypothesis 6:

Hypothesis 6 : Social software supports an important prerequisite of communities of practice, namely legitimate peripheral participation, because users can particiapte in a way that best suits their needs, without being obliged to become core community members who participate for the greater good.”

The issue is, that those on the periphery will only participate if there is something going on at the core – in this case, posts. With nothing to comment on, the active participants will wander off, the community will stop creating opportunties for learning. Bearing in mind this is an internal, closed community, I'm struggling as I’m now at the difficult stage of cajolling people to post, and get more participants, neither of which I’m finding particularly easy…I guess I need to re-read Saint-Onges Leveraging Communities of Practice for Strategic Advantage (despite what he says about blogging...see John Husband's blog for more on this KM/blogging debate)

Linked articles/sites article Communities of Practice
Situated cognition and the culture of learning (Brown, Collins & Duguid)

Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991) Situated Learning. Legitimate peripheral participation, Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.

Saint-Onge, H., Wallace, D. (2002), Leveraging Communities of Practice for Strategic Advantage, Butterworth-Heinemann, USA


Anonymous said...

Hey Helen. I just started working on a knowledge management project taht requires me reading 'Leveraging communities of practices for strategic advantage'. Based on my findings from relevant sources I am also expected to give a detailed plan for implementation. I'm a little clueless cos this is not quite my forte. Could you refer me to any case studies or papers on the topic of knowledge management models. Please email me at

Helen Nicol said...

There's a lot of stuff out there Imman. I'll email you some papers that might help.