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Communities of Practice (CoP)


“A community of practice (CoP) is, according to cognitive anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, a group of people who share a craft and/or a profession. The group can evolve naturally because of the members’ common interest in a particular domain or area, or it can be created specifically with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field. It is through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that the members learn from each other, and have an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally (Lave & Wenger 1991).

CoPs exist in offline, for example, a lunch room at work, a field setting, a factory floor, or elsewhere in the environment, but members of CoPs do not have to be co-located. They form a “virtual community of practice” (VCoP) (e.g. Dubé et al. 2005) when they collaborate online, such as within discussion boards and newsgroups, or a ‘‘mobile community of practice’’ (MCoP) (Kietzmann et al. 2013) when members communicate with one another via mobile phones and participate in community work on the go.

Communities of practice are not new phenomena: this type of learning practice has existed for as long as people have been learning and sharing their experiences through storytelling. The idea is rooted in American pragmatism, especially C.S. Pierce’s concept of “the community of inquiry” (Shields 2003), but also John Dewey’s principle of learning through occupation (Wallace 2007). Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger coined the phrase in their 1991 book, ‘Situated learning’ (Lave & Wenger 1991), and Wenger then significantly expanded on the concept in his 1998 book, ‘Communities of Practice’ (Wenger 1998).”