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Community of practice

Community of practice

A community of practice (CoP) is a group of people who share a profession (or craft). 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 the field of common interest. Through sharing information and experiences with the group, members learn from each other and have an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally. CoPs can exist online, such as within discussion boards and newsgroups, or in real life, such as in a lunch group at work. This type of learning practice has existed for as long as people have been learning and sharing their experiences through storytelling.

You will need


Face-to-face, all you need is a regular meeting place, commitment from your community members to show up regularly, and a means of communicating with them in-between times (e.g. through a mailing list).
For virtual communities of practice, you can make them as complex or as simple as you like. You could use existing social networks: a twitter hashtag with a predefined time slot for discussion, or a linked in group, may be all that it takes, especially in the beginning. It’s better to start small and lightweight, adding complexity only as needed once the community starts to grow.

Benefits and limitations



  • Short-term communities of practice can stimulate reinforcement of learning after a course
  • Participation in communities of practice is reinforced by the community itself - the more you put in, the more you get out. This allows for different levels of participation.


  • Success depends on the committment of participants; often at least one leader is necessary to drive the formation of the community and make decisions on what's in scope
  • Some level of structure may need to be established at the start to ensure ground rules, purpose and goals

What do I actually do as an instructor/facilitator?

Preparation / before class

Before setting up a community of practice, do your research and find out whether there’s an existing one in your field that you could join instead.

Implementation / during class

You need a group of people with a shared interest and a shared goal. The group needs to agree to get together on a regular basis – either physically or online. An agreed code of conduct is very helpful. When starting a community of practice, it may take little preparation time but you to need to commit (or identify volunteers in your community willing to commit) to keeping up the momentum. In a classroom setting (face to face or online) it’s unlikely (but not impossible) that you’ll be initiating new communities of practice. Successful communities of practice can sometimes arise spontaneously, perhaps suggested by your trainees. If delivering advanced courses you may want to think about whether there are existing communities of practice of interest to your students.
A good outcome: This depends on the precise goals of your community. If your goals are relatively short term (e.g. supporting each other to get to a certain level in a new programming language) success could mean disbanding the community once the goals are met. If your goals are more fuzzy, success could be interest from a broader community, growing numbers of community members, and ultimately the need to form a more formal structure.

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