Virtual Communities of Practice

If you asked Generation Y’ers how they like to learn, odds are it will be “socially”.   And, most of us aren’t all that different.  We do like to get together, at least sometimes, for learning.

we are an internet community - from Geek & Sundry

Getting together to learn.  That’s what ‘communities of practice’ are all about.  A community of practice is a “group 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.”  (Etienne Wenger, Cultivating Communities of Practice)

The professional community of practice I’ve been most active in, over the last decade, has been with the Mediate BC, as part of the Court Mediation Program.  We’ve regularly met, sometimes virtually, sometimes face-to-face.  The context has been our in-person, court-based, work.  Well, that will all change, before too long, as more of the work goes virtual.

As the work goes more virtual, so should the community of practice.

Virtual Community of Practice and the value of simulations

Online, we can interact as a community via LinkedIn, email chains, corporate networks, etc.  Yet, the real bang for the buck is with simulations; simulations of the actual work we do, the “practice” part of community.

Mediator Guiseppe Leone, from Hawaii, has been exploring simulations with his Virtual Mediation Lab initiative.  He’s showing leadership in the mediator community of practice, as others have observed; e.g., Ottawa mediator, Arnold Zeman, here.

Although I haven’t directly participated in Guiseppe’s Lab, I’ve been following his initiative for some time.

It seems the lessons being learned through Guiseppe’s Lab, are quite similar to those I’ve experienced in my Mediate BC community of practice.

  • If newly trained folks don’t get practice, they give up.  When you’ve been trained in something, you want and need to use it.  And, if you have a love of learning, which I expect you do, then you must use it.  After all, “the objective of learning is to integrate thinking and doing.”
  • With simulations, you get immediate feedback from your colleagues, observe and appreciate how others do things… especially opportune when things go off the rail, as In Real Life
  • with recording and/or videotaping your simulation, you can learn a whole lot, watching yourself
  • make some simulations public… people who might use your services truly appreciated the power of what you offer, if they can see it in action, and in their own language
  • simulations trigger ideas; e.g., what other opportunities can we explore, to deliver and promote our service?
  • it doesn’t take long to learn the tools (hours or days)… it can take years, a lifetime, to master the many nuanced detailed practices of your chosen profession
  • a mix of proximity and private spaces aids the social learning; e.g., some conversations are better suited to a separate room (whether that’s down the hall, or virtual)

Now, there are unique features to the virtual community of practice context; e.g., I might be talking to you, wearing my pyjamas… something that’s not like to happen, if we were together.  How much those impact the quality of the social learning, I’m not sure.

Good communities of practice, virtual or otherwise, don’t just happen on their own.  It takes intentional effort, just ask conflict management coach, Cinnie Noble, who leads the LinkedIn Conflict Coaching Guild group. If your online community of practice is a corporate or brand-one, the stakes are high.  If you have a passion, there’s probably a community of practice waiting for you to connect with… maybe a Geek and Sundry community? 🙂

Virtual social learning

How are you making it happen?  How do you practice, and/or talk about, your work, with your colleagues, regularly, in the virtual medium?  Any good examples (yourself or others) to share?

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