This is a guest post from Tiffany Fary, a Senior eLearning Instructional Designer in the corporate sector.
When it comes to the terms “Social Learning” and “Communities of Practice”, many people in the corporate learning realm are confused, myself included. We think we know what these mean one day, and then the next day a new theory or idea emerges that turns the whole idea of each upside down and inside out. Are Social Learning and Communities of Practice different? I think they are, but do you?
People in corporations are picking up Social Learning as one of the latest learning “buzzwords” without really knowing what it means. They hear it mentioned mostly through their own social networks and immediately think…”This is new and innovative! Let’s do this!”. It’s up to us then to figure out what to do with it. The scramble for research begins.
Here’s what I think Social Learning means:
Social Learning – Learning by observing, conversing, or questioning. This can take place in an informal or formal setting and sometimes may even occur without the learner realizing that learning is taking place or without making a conscious decision to learn. It’s organic and usually unorganized. Social Learning is more focused on the needs of the individual. In social learning, a participant might ask “What do *I* need to know and who knows how to answer this quickly?” Knowledge is primarily consumed or pulled from experts.
Social Learning is hard to track and it’s going to happen whether we try to implement it or not. It’s learning in the wild, via conversations, social media and the learning 2.0 technologies.
Communities of Practice
What corporations should really be focusing on are Communities of Practice (CoP) instead. Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave are the most well-known and respected experts when it comes to coining the phrase Communities of Practice and initially defining it more than 10 years ago. CoPs are recently gathering more traction the learning community and this is most likely due to the availability and wider acceptance of the 2.0 technologies in the corporate environment. We now have the tools, such as blogs, wikis and discussion boards, to really make this work…AND be able to track it.
Here’s what I think Communities of Practice are:
Communities of Practice (CoPs) – Groups of people with a common interest that are focused on collaboration and sharing of information related to that common interest. CoPs have a purpose, organization, and are usually tied to a business goal when used in corporations. A CoP is more focused on improving performance and enhancing knowledge of the group, as opposed to an individual. In CoPs, a participant might ask “What can I share with the group or how can we solve a problem together?” Knowledge is primarily shared or pushed.
As the innovators and learning experts for our respective organizations, we need understand what our “customers” are asking for as well as be able to influence them into making the right decisions in relation to Social Learning and Communities of Practice. However, we can’t do that unless we’re able to understand these differences (if there really is any) ourselves. I’m not a learning expert, but I hope I got you thinking and perhaps I just turned your own theories upside down and inside out. 😉
Tiffany Fary is a Senior eLearning Instructional Designer with more than 11 years experience in corporate learning. She is primarily focused on improving learning and enhancing learner performance through the use of technology. In her free time, Tiffany enjoys spending time with her son and is an avid video gamer. You can follow her on Twitter via @TiffanyFary.