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date: 23 May 2017

Communities of Practice

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.

A Community of Practice (CoP) is an approach to professional learning and development based on collaboration among peers. In a CoP, individuals come together virtually or physically and coalesce around a common purpose. CoPs are defined by knowledge rather than task and provide a safe space for novices and experienced practitioners to collaborate, construct, and embed sustainable outputs that impact on both theory and practice development.

CoPs provide a framework for constructing authentic and collaborative learning. Jeanne Lave and Etienne Wenger are credited with the original description of a CoP as an approach to learning that encompasses elements of identity, situation, and active participation. CoPs blend a constructivist view of learning, where meaningful experience is set in the context of “self” and the relationship of “self” with the wider professional community. The result is an integrated approach to learning and development achieved through a combination of social engagement and collaborative working in an authentic practice environment.

In health and education, CoPs blend theory and practice to create a portal for practitioners to generate, shape, test, and evaluate new ideas and innovations. CoPs learn through the act of social participation; active group learning, and collaboration in an authentic practice environment. Membership of a CoP supports the development of professional identity within a wider vocational sphere.