Communities of practice are groups of people who gather based on a shared interest or passion for something they all do and learn how to do it better through regular interactions. These groups usually focus on sharing best practices and advancing their field through shared information that results in individual development, ultimately benefitting the larger field. The Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium outlined the three characteristics of a community of practice as follows:
Domain: Community members have a shared domain of interest, competence and commitment that distinguishes them from others. This shared domain creates common ground, inspires members to participate, guides their learning, and gives meaning to their actions.
Community: Members pursue this interest through joint activities, discussions, problem-solving opportunities, information sharing and relationship building. The notion of a community creates the social fabric for enabling collective learning. A strong community fosters interaction and encourages a willingness to share ideas.
Practice: Community members are actual practitioners in this domain of interest, and build a shared repertoire of resources and ideas that they take back to their practice. While the domain provides the general area of interest for the community, the practice is the specific focus around which the community develops, shares and maintains its core of collective knowledge.
One rapidly growing application of communities of practice is with regard to college professors. The fact that college professors largely receive no formal training as educators is an open secret within higher education. As we have all experienced at one time or another, being an expert in a particular field or subject does not necessarily translate to effective teaching. This is an area where a community of practice could provide a wealth of knowledge for those teaching in post-secondary education. Communities of practice are fast becoming a go-to framework for faculty development in higher education because they can fulfill individual and group goals.
One of the surprising outcomes of communities of practice for professors in higher education is the reciprocal nature of learning. Participants often mistakenly presuppose that the more tenured professors will be doing all of the guiding and mentoring of the relatively new professors. In fact, because newer professors have received more teacher training than their elder counterparts, they often find themselves mentoring the more experienced professors as well. This is exactly what an effective community of practice should harness- the power of reciprocal learning from different perspectives and levels of experience. So, get out there, and find your people!
Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium. (2016). Creating Communities of Practice.
Wilson, A. & Wilson, C. (2020). Using Community of Practice in Higher Education: Understanding Demographics of Participation and Impact on Teaching. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. 32-1, 39-48. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1259432.pdf