Practice lens: Communities of practice

Improving teaching practice through considering the 'practice lens', traditionally referred to disciplinary expertise, most commonly the faculty.  However more recently we have broadened that expertise to include others of similar passion or concern – the 'community of practice'.

What is a Community of Practice (CoP)?

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. According to Lave & Wenger (1991) there are three characteristics that distinguish a community of practice:

  • The domain:  It has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest. Membership therefore implies a commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people. They value their collective competence and learn from each other, even though few people outside the group may value or even recognize their expertise.
  • The community: In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other; they care about their standing with each other.
  • The practice:  Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems—in short a shared practice. This takes time and sustained interaction.

How can a CoP improve practice?

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Further information and resources