Friday, February 16, 2007

What is a Community of Practice?

I just received a letter and brochure in the mail from the eLearning Guild extolling the virtues of their upcoming annual conference in Boston this April. The letter urges me to join their "community of practice" at this event, and to experience "peer-to-peer interaction." Well, I attended last year's conference, and certainly did not experience a great deal of peer-to-peer interaction or feel part of a genuine community of practice. There were many hundreds of us in attendance, and, for the most part, we were herded from session to session where we were talked at for an hour or so. When there was any peer-to-peer interaction, this happened more by accident than design during coffee breaks, lunches and receptions.

Don't get me wrong, the eLearning Guild is a great organization, and I have been a member for some time. I make good use of their Learning Solutions e-Magazine and their periodic research reports about eLearning. However, with some 24,000 members, it is a small city, and decidedly not a community of practice. And I often feel less of a "member" and more of a demographic to be sorted, segmented, and sold to various advertisers and vendors.

Why not create environments where the great interchanges that happen among peers in between formal sessions at conferences can happen at any time, and all the time? Jay Cross got it right in a recent blog posting when he said:

"If your learning plans don't embrace the power of networks, go back to the drawing board for another look. Learning occurs in conversations, collaboration, knowledge transfer, focused news, and other network phenomena....In learning, being authentic means admitting that we don't have all the answers. It's hooking people up so they may learn from and with one another."

Similarly, I was reminded in Lance Dublin's e-newsletter this week that the real power of Web 2.0 is in the way that it links people, not just information. The early days of the Internet were all about the tremendous loads of information that one could access in an instant. The new Web is about the connections that can be made and the human knowledge and experience that can be leveraged when and as needed. Lance linked to a wonderful little video from Prof. Michael Wesch of Kansas State University titled "Web 2.0 The Machine is Us/ing Us" that makes this point eloquently.

If you are interested in being part of new eLearning community of practice that is focused on a small group of practitioners sharing, and collaborating and learning from each other online and in-person, join us for a webinar on February 20th about the soon to be launched eLearn Campus Peer Network.


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