Revisiting Communities of Practice

infed article on Communities of Practice

I consider myself part of a number of communities of practice, including my course mates from our PGCE and also with the wider library world through professional networks. Both of these are facilitated by social media and online technologies such as Yammer and Twitter.

The basic theory is that people don’t stop learning but learn from others with the same interest or in the same field. This is a pretty solid theory of informal learning and appeals to my sense that learning and teaching only takes place in formal situations. The theory developed by Lave and Wenger is posited on a broad understanding of what learning is. Learning is where people work together to get better at something or solve some kind of problem. To give the theory some structure, Lave and Wenger define three core components: a shared domain of interest or identity, a community that discusses and shares information; and the development of shared tools for practice.

Tomorrow I’m going to be pitching this as an idea to a colleague who is setting up an online help forum for searching for systematic review. At the moment, this project is in a very techy what-platform-do-we-use stage. But I think this project has the potential to be something much bigger than a simple online help forum. This is an opportunity to create a community of practice for students and researchers at King’s to work together to develop and share tools for the practice of systematic review searching, to discuss their strategies and their challenges, to become a community and develop their own practice.

Without the underpinning of a good theoretical structure, the burden of work will be on us as librarians to reassure anxious researchers eagerly seeking the perfect search strategy and another shiny gold star. If we can develop a vibrant and dynamic community of practice instead, the community will support one another and their own expertise will be shared.

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