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Communities of Practice to Improve Knowledge Management and eLearning in SMEs

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SIMPEL - Improving eLearning in SMEs Final Conference 14.04.08 Communities of Practice to Improve Knowledge Management and eLearning in SMEs Anke Petschenka, Steffi Engert (University Duisburg-Essen) Ileana Hamburg (IAT Gelsenkirchen) Table of Contents

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SIMPEL - Improving eLearning in SMEs

Final Conference 14.04.08

Communities of Practice

to Improve Knowledge Management and

eLearning in SMEs

Anke Petschenka, Steffi Engert (University Duisburg-Essen)

Ileana Hamburg (IAT Gelsenkirchen)


Table of Contents

  • Definition and Specifications of CoPs
  • eLearning and VCoP
  • Idea of CoP for SIMPEL
  • Conclusions


Jean Lave

Etienne Wenger

1. Communities of Practice – an approach to learning

  • The term „Community of Practice“ was first used in 1991 by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger

1.1 Communities of Practice (CoP)

„We all belong to communities of practice. …

At home, at work, at school, in our hobbies, we belong to several communities of practice at any given time.“

Etienne Wenger 2001

Emphasis:learning situations in daily life, at work, at home

and throughout society.


1.2 Communities of Practice (CoP)

„Communities of Practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavour.“

Etienne Wenger 2004

Emphasis:learning peer-to-peer

interacting/collaborating in a social network focussed on practice and exchange of experience.


1.3 Communities of Practice (CoP) nach E. Wenger


1.3 Specifications for CoPs

  • its members share a domain of interest and they are committed to this domain voluntarily
  • they collect and share information resources
  • shared or complementary competences among members
  • common ideas and/or joint activities
  • absence or near absence of hierarchies
  • orientation towards exchanging experiences on
  • developing best practice/agreement on standards for best practice
  • Web 2.0 applications and concepts regarding „social networking“

1.4 Informal Learning

Informal learning can be characterized as follows:

  • it does not take place in special educational establishements apart from normal life and professional practice
  • it has no curriculum and is not professionally organized
  • it is not planned in a pedagogically conscious, systematic manner according to subjects, test and qualification
  • CoP allow informal learning and facilitate knowledge management

!!! Jay Cross (2006) pointed out that formal trainings and workshops account only for 10-20% of what people learn at work!!!


2 eLearning - VCoP

  • new media technologies enable time and place independent exchange
  • fast transfer of knowledge
  • efficient organisation of workflows
  • reduction of workload
  • documentation: collecting and accessing information repositories
  • eCommunication, eCooperation
  • Communication channels (synchronous/asynchronous)

2.1 face-to-face meetings and VCoP

  • CoPs often start in face-to-face-settings
  • benefit from information technologies for collecting and accessing information repositories
  • many CoPs grow into a VCoP or work in a “blended“ mode, combining the best of both worlds

2.2 Working in a VCoP has a number of advantages

  • members can access the community and share their work largely independent of time and location
  • it is easy to bring together people of different backgrounds and levels of expertise
  • it is cost-effective
  • people may be less inhibited to take part in the discussion than in face-to-face situations

2.3 Working in a VCoP has to be balanced against possible disadvantages

  • to keep up motivation may be harder than in a CoP meeting face-to-face
  • missing face-to-face meetings may give rise to feelings of social isolation
  • a certain level of technical equipment and technical expertise (‘e-competence‘) is required from the community members.

3 The idea of CoP for SIMPEL

  • CoP took place on a model of a “blended“ CoP combining workshops, seminars and “virtual“ collaboration (LMS MOODLE)
  • especially the elaboration of the “Guidelines on eLearning in SMEs“
    • cumulated eLearning experiences by SIMPEL partners
    • cumulated eLearning experiences of wider expert network

3.2 Learning Management System: Moodle

  • Learning Management System Moodle to house the SIMPEL CoP
  • Philosopy: Social constructivist pedagogical concept and not primarily developed out of software-development considerations
  • The community was used for
    • Distributing information materials on CoPs and other issues
    • Presentation of successful models of e-learning
    • Elaboration of the Guidelines by using the Moodle WIKI
    • Documentations of events (workshops, conferences)
    • Toolbox: links to tools for e-learning; manuals for Moodle

4. Conclusions

  • combining face-to-face meetings with ongoing work on a virtual platform
  • CoP can easily be started to build a community of knowledge exchange, know-how and problem-solving ideas
  • it is important that the members of the CoP are networkers conversant with training conceptions, blended-learning methods and eLearning
  • Networking
    • in an individual SME or department
    • between several SMEs on a branch or a regional level
    • from different levels might network into a kind of „meta-CoP“.
  • CoPs can fulfill an important function as part of the training strategy

University of Duisburg-Essen

Institute for Work and Technology

Thank you for your attention!