I first learned of Communities of Practice back when I did my Master’s degree (2003-5). Etienne Wegner and Jean Lave coined the term and defined them: “Communities of Practice are groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis” (Wegner, McDermott, and Snyder, 2002, p. 4). I found the idea fascinated and they were presented as one of the next best things in corporate training. the power of the Internet made the idea of Virtual Communities of Practice a reality. This was happening just as Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, and other social media technologies were emerging.
A virtual community of practice was a specialized website that aggregates all the web 2.0 tools into a portal, so that the participants only need to go to one link to be connected to the community. Companies like Tomoye (locate in Gatineau) were leaders in this technology (in searching, I’ve discovered that NewsGator purchased Tomoye).
Back then we had virtual communities of practice, now we have social networks. The concepts are the same, only the name is different. The popularity of Facebook, Blogging, and Twitter changed the face of Virtual Communities of Practice, and gave us Enterprise Social Business Software Solutions.
That being said, unless you work for a government agency or a huge corporation, these Enterprise Social Business Software Solutions are out of your reach. The cost to implement them is huge. Not only do you need to pay for the software, it also takes full time staff to ensure that the community is nurtured (new content added regularly, old content removed). Personally, I had thought they died a slow death, due to the cost of maintaining them. In looking further, I see that they exist in many large corporations and government agencies.
But what about everyone else? How can small companies, consultants, academics, students, and everyone else get access to virtual communities of practice? Where can average people go to participate in social learning?
One answer is the MOOC – Massively Open Online Course. I was first introduced to this idea in April, when I signed myself up for MobiMOOC, a Massively Open Online Course on Mobile Learning. I was impressed by the people listed as facilitators, and the endorsements from various other people I follow on Twitter.
Over 500 people participated in MobiMOOC to varying degrees. For me, it provided an opportunity to meet someone in my town doing Mobile Learning (someone who happened to have grown up in the same small town I did – what an odd coincidence). I also discovered many resource on mobile learning and had a chance to interact with people that had a variety of experience creating and researching mobile learning. It was a place where both academics and practitioners could meet and learn from one another.
I am left reflecting, does a MOOC qualify as a “community of practice”. We certainly share a domain – that being the topic of the MOOC. We are a community with varying levels of participation (lurkers, moderately active, or memorably active). We shared aspects of our practice – in this case the creation of mobile learning. MobiMOOC certainly fit the requirements for a Community of Practice, except for the ongoing nature of it. MobiMOOC had a specific life-span – that of 6-weeks, although for some it will live on longer as various projects were hatched during the course.
In this day and age, of too much information, and not enough time, I think the MOOC is the perfect response to virtual communities of practice. They are accessible to anyone who has Internet access and they live long enough to share meaning learning without becoming a burden to maintain.
I’ll certainly be keeping my eye out for the next MobiMOOC. I might even volunteer to “host” a week.
What do you think? In a MOOC a Community of Practice?