Communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing in the course of the digital era

An examination of virtual communities as organizational units and their impact on capitalizing on collective intelligence and work efficiency using the example of "Communities of Practice"

Project Report, 2013
77 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

List of Graphics


1. Introduction
1.1 Problem and Purpose
1.2 Approach to the Thesis and outline

2. Literature Review
2.1 The virtual community
2.1.1 Terms and Definitions
2.1.2 History of virtual communities
2.1.3 A typology of virtual communities
2.1.4 Virtual communities for learning and development
2.2 Learning Theory
2.2.1 Situated Learning and Legitimate Peripheral Participation
2.2.2 Organizational Learning in Communities of Practice Community of Practice as social learning systems Online collaborative learning
2.3 Community of Practice
2.3.1 Terms and Definitions
2.3.2 Characteristics of Community of Practice
2.3.4 Benefits and Cost
2.4 Human Resource Development
2.4.1 Terms and Definitions
2.4.2 A framework for Human Resource Development
2.4.3 Learning organizations
2.4.4 Web-based training

3. Methodology

4. Application of the Deliverables
4.1 Establishing an effective, digitized Community of Practice for knowledge
4.2 The HR-role in creating Communities of Practice
4.3 Navigator for establishing a digitised Community of Practice

5. Conclusion and Outlook



List of Abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

List of graphics

Illustration 1: Typology of virtual communities

Illustration 2: Model for constructivist learning environment

Illustration 3: Evaluating Web-based learning environments

Illustration 4: Knowledge Sharing through Communities of Practice

Illustration 5: Life Cycle of Development of a Community of Practice

Illustration 6: Major benefits of Communities of Practice

Illustration 7: A Framework for the Human Resource Development Process

Illustration 8: Knowledge Claims, Strategies of Inquiry, and Methods Leading to Approaches

Illustration 9: Cultivation of Communities of Practice through Managers

Illustration 10: Comparison of various technologies useful for managing Communities of Practice

Illustration 11: The role of HRD in creating and supporting digitised Communities of Practice

Illustration 12: Qualitative analysis of interviews

Illustration 13: Digitized Community of Practice - Matrix

Illustration 14: Digitized Communities of Practice – Navigator for Distribution


This paper explores the practicable establishment of local Communities of Practice (CoP) on a virtual level to foster the augmentation of knowledge, sharing of practice and employee development. Communities of Practice have been identified as important sites of learning through creating and sharing knowledge within its social structures. The thesis examines how learning develops in this context and constitutes the basic theoretical attainment that is aligned to CoP. Furthermore, the paper reviews how technology can be introduced to reinforce communication and collaboration within the community. In order to build an understanding of how CoP create organizational value, the thesis not only focuses on the acknowledged learning theory models but also on the characteristics and benefits of those communities themselves as well as on virtual communities in general.

Significant learning opportunities are identified within those communities, which are affirmed through a well-founded literature review on the topics “Learning Organizations”, “Web-based Learning” and “Development of a framework for Human Resource Development”. The review includes the identification of the HR-professional as a key player and stakeholder within the context of establishing a digitised CoP. The paper concludes with a navigator that has been evolved through merging the major findings of the literature analysis, the field research (expert-interviews) and personal contribution.

Keywords – Community of Practice, Learning Theory, Knowledge Transfer, Digitised Community of Practice, Virtual Communities, Collaboration, Human Resource Development

1. Introduction

1.1 Problem and Purpose

"Everyone knows that the future of work is engaged employees who collaborate to get things done but struggle to figure out how to get there[1]”. Jonathan Becher, Chief Marketing Officer at SAP, hits an essential point with his statement. Web 2.0 has opened a new frontier for coordinating work as businesses and organizations leveraging the power of networked technologies to drive the next significant phase of Internet productivity. A new class of company is emerging – one that uses collaborative Web 2.0 technologies intensively to connect the internal efforts of employees. Counting more than 1.5 billion virtual community members[2], this growth indicates the primary appeal of social technology which brings the speed, scale and economics of the Internet to social interactions on corporate level.

Companies will have to transform their organizational structures, processes and cultures to become an extended networked enterprise that is connected well internally, as well as externally. According to Kevin Mahoney, Chief Human Capital Officer (U.S. Small Business Administration), “The HR function should be taking a leadership role in identifying tools for collaboration. It should also set up and facilitate communities of practice[3]”.

As an assumption, enterprises must be open to information sharing and create cultures of trust and cooperation to unfold the full potential of social technologies. With respect to McKinsey Global Institute, 70% of companies use social technology[4] but only 21% have invested in tools to promote collaboration and networking[5] (IBM Chief Human Resource Officer Study (2010)). On the other hand, up to 25% potential improvement can be derived in knowledge worker productivity[6]. Businesses have just understood how to create value with social technologies such as virtual communities. These technologies have evolved from a new media platform to an increasingly important business tool with wide-ranging capabilities.

Social technology provides the possibility to publish, share and consume content in a group and can extend the capabilities of workers by streamlining collaboration and communication, lowering barriers and bringing additional knowledge and expertise in extended networked enterprises. These applications may include blogs, wikis or shared work-spaces such as communities. The McKinsey Global Institute states that two-third of the value creation opportunity of social technology lies in improving communication and collaboration within an across enterprises which could be carried out through virtual communities of practice for instance[7]. For many employees today, collaborative, complex problem solving is the essence of their work. Exchanging information virtually and distributing knowledge on social platforms play a crucial role in the “networked enterprise”, as McKinsey calls it[8].

The IBM Institute for Business Value[9] found out that four areas are crucial for successful companies as in terms of Human Resource. Two of them can be related to the networked enterprise: Capitalizing on collective intelligence and becoming borderless. Enterprises must adapt tools and innovations to connect their workforce: 78% of the interviewed HR-leaders think that their company is not effective at fostering collaboration and social networking yet.

As these technical, information and communication technologies can support and drive innovative work practice, improve processes and impact on efficiency and productivity, one of the major tasks for HR-leaders lies in providing their workforce with sponsorship, collaborative tools and necessary resources to foster knowledge sharing and trust among different parts of the organization.

Well-respected organizations such as McKinsey Consulting or Samsung use communities of practice for knowledge management, employee development or training programs. Only few have developed virtual Communities of Practice yet. According to Wenger and Snyder, the main advantages of Communities of Practice are: Driving strategy, generating new lines of business, solving problems, developing people’s skills and helping companies recruiting and retaining talent[10].

Knowledge-sharing and collaboration through digitized Communities of Practice can be a possible platform for employee development and create value for Human Resource Officers facing new challenges in the course of current technological circumstances.

1.2 Approach to the Thesis and outline

The thesis addresses the following research question(s):

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In addition, I am seeking the following objectives:

- Technology as a booster for Digitization of Communities of Practice
- Key assets obtained through establishing a digitized CoP
- Stakeholder engagement and key players (Manager / Human Resource Professional)
- Simplified approach for creating a digitized CoP
- Human Resource Development potentials derived from the navigator

This thesis is shaped with a qualitative approach, in which the knowledge claims are primarily based on constructivist perspectives (i.e. multiple meanings of individual experiences, socially and historical constructed, with an intent of forming a theory). The field research was a collection of open-ended, emerging data with a primary intent of developing themes from the data. Qualitative research methods of this thesis encompass interview data (open-ended questions) and text/image analysis. The strategy of inquiry is mainly based on the grounded theory of learning of Lave & Wenger (Legitimate peripheral participation).

In chapter 2.1 I am going to set the foundation for further knowledge gaining as regards communities and their uplift on a virtual environment. I will establish an understanding of common terms and definitions of virtual communities, point out a typology and review the historical background. Furthermore, I am going to show potential learning opportunities associated within these environments.

Chapter 2.2 introduces the most popular concept of learning theory that is linked to communities of practice. I am going to reference Lave & Wenger’s theory of situated learning and legitimate peripheral participation, regard organizational learning, behold critically Communities of Practice as social learning systems and identify the most crucial aspects as regards online collaborative learning.

In chapter 2.3 I am going to illustrate the concept of Communities of Practice and provide a definition that is derived from a critical review of different authors. Moreover, I am going to point out the characteristics, highlight participation and knowledge transfer and finally depict benefits and cost of those communities.

In chapter 2.4 I am going to disclose Human Resource Development, provide a common framework, review organizational learning and set the foundation for web-based learning. In this chapter I am going to link the findings and show potential alliances with HRD that can be derived.

Chapter 3 comprises the research design and the approach of inquiry. I am going to point out my research proposal and bring up the essential aspects with regard to Creswell’s theoretical construct of scientific research.

Chapter 4 and 5 cover the application of the deliverables and the conclusion / outlook. I am going to picture a navigator for facilitated establishment of an effective, digitized Community of Practice. In addition, I disclose the role of a Human-Resource professional in dependence on the approach of establishing a virtual Community of Practice. Finally, I am going to centralize my major findings and show future fields of research that can be tied up to my outcomes, both on a theoretical and practical basis.

What am I contributing to the field of research? With this thesis, I am lifting existing deliverables (literature review) of local CoP on a virtual level through developing a navigator for simplified construction of digitized Communities of Practice. Moreover, I conclude and implement measures into the navigator which can be used for further development and research, especially focusing web-based learning environments. On top of that, I bring up the opportunity to match IBM’s software “Connections” to the navigator through accomplishing a fit-gap-analysis which helps evaluating the collaboration software for this possible purpose.

2. Literature Review

2.1 The virtual community

2.1.1 Terms and Definitions

Humans gather to form groups or communities in order to accomplish certain individual or collective objectives. At the beginning of the 90’s, the Internet provided the possibility and infrastructure for the formation of similar communities that are not physical but virtual: The virtual communities[11].

Beholding current literature, one can find diverse terminologies of "virtual community“.

Döring defines a "virtual community“ from a socio-psychological perspective: Consortium of people having a common interest, socializing and sharing information via computer with a certain regularity and obligation[12]. From a business-perspective one can state that virtual communities are groups of people "with common interests and needs who come together online. Most are drawn by the opportunity to share a sense of community with like-minded strangers, regardless of where they live. But virtual communities are more than just a social phenomenon. What starts of as a group drawn together by common interests, ends up as a group with a critical mass of purchasing power, partly thanks to the fact that communities allow members to exchange information on such things as a product’s price and quality[13]”. One of the most common and cited definitions of virtual communities comes from Howard Rheingold: “Virtual communities are social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyber-space[14]”.

In general, a virtual community is a collection of people sharing ideas, common interests and feelings over the internet or other collaborative networks[15]. These social aggregations emerge from the net, if enough people carry on public discussions with sufficient human feeling to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace[16].

2.1.2 History of virtual communities

As human beings are not solitary creatures, they tend to gravitate towards other individuals and create groups or communities. On the one hand, they provide a certain belonging, on the other hand they help sharing expertise, experience and ideas[17]. Each community has its own code of conduct and regulations or rules. Knowledge and resources for knowledge building are central to both virtual and physical communities. Members or participants in any community are engaged in learning processes and interactions that are critical for the survival and reproduction of that community[18]. This learning in particular, might even be more important for virtual communities.

The advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web provides us an easy access and communication channel to build such virtual collaborations. Although these communities are formed for the same reasons as the traditional ones, they differ in a crucial spot: They are virtual. In cyberspace the economies of interaction, communication and coordination are different from people meeting face-to-face[19]. Using network interaction media such as virtual communities, people have formed thousands of groups to exchange knowledge, discuss, work or entertain one and another.

How can these social spaces on the internet be considered? According to Smith and Kollock, there are “two opposing visions[20]”. Al Gore, as a prominent (1993) captures the vision by stating that our new ways of communication will do both: entertain as well as inform. But more importantly, they will educate, promote democracy and create jobs[21]. From his point of view, these networks will create opportunities for employment, political participation and social interaction. An alternative view states that individuals are trapped in a net that offers easy surveillance opportunities and social control.

The virtual community was already taken into consideration before the advent of the internet. In the early 60’s, J.C.R. Licklider already had the vision that one day people will do both: grabbing information as well as communicating over networks[22]. In the early 70’s Lickliders vision became true: Two people abused the Arpanet, which was the internets ancestor, to transfer messages between their computers. Especially in the US, lots of virtual communities arose in the 80’s but the first enterprises began to adapt virtual communities not until the 1990’s. With the arrival of Web 2.0, virtual communities play a significant role these days and attract notice to companies more than ever before.

2.1.3 A typology of virtual communities

The popularity of virtual communities reflects the fact that individuals are using new technologies in the course of Web 2.0 to fulfil both social and economic goals. Virtual communities are used to discuss shared interest (communities of interest), to develop social relations (communities of relationship) or to exchange experience and gain knowledge (communities of practice). In general, one can differentiate five different areas of virtual communities: Interest, Action, Place, Practice, Circumstances. In fact, firms and individuals can derive value from virtual communities.

As with the definition (Chapter 2.1.1), there is no widely supported typology of virtual communities. Researchers tend to categorize virtual communities according to a factor that is of primary importance to their discipline[23]. Information system researchers categorize virtual communities based on the supporting communication technology. Others have taken a sociological perspective by using the structure of interaction. Business researchers have categorized them based on communities’ purpose such as revenue generation or how virtual communities help to fulfil consumer needs. Enclosed one can find a proposed typology of Constance Elise Porter including two first-level categories: Member-Initiated and Organization-Sponsored. Porter developed a classification system that would be useful to researchers from various disciplinary perspectives.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Illustration 1: Typology of virtual communities[24]

Member-initiated communities are those that were established and remain managed by members, whereas organization-sponsored communities are either sponsored by commercial or non-profit organizations. At the second-level they are categorized based on the general relationship orientation. Member-initiated communities foster either social or professional relationship among members, while organization-sponsored ones foster relationships between individual members and sponsoring organization. According to Porter’s typology system, a virtual community is defined as an aggregation of individuals or business-partners that act around a shared interest, where the interaction is at least supported partially by technology and guided by norms. Porter introduces the “five-P” – approach to classify communities[25]:

- Purpose: Describes the specific focus of discourse or the communication content that forms the basis of the interaction
- Place: Defines the location of the community (completely or partially virtual)
- Population: Refers to the pattern of the interaction as described by group structure (E.g. small group or large network) and social tie (e.g. strong, weak)
- Platform: Refers to the communities technical design (synchronous/ asynchronous)
- Profit model: Revenue-generating or non-revenue generating

2.1.4 Virtual communities for learning and development

In the past decades, there has been a growing interest in learning and development of professionals. A paradigm shift from models of education and training has taken place where knowledge and skills are no longer transmitted trough formal attendance and training sessions only. Current approaches describe groups of practitioners working together to examine, evaluate and construct knowledge and skills relevant to their workplace[26]. According to Lewis and Allan, there are three distinct frameworks for supporting professional development: Structured Learning, Learning communities and Communities of Practice[27]. A learning community can be described as a supportive cluster of people coming together to learn and collaborate with the objective of a specific outcome. Virtual communities provide the possibility to come together across barriers such as time and space[28]. These communities for learning and development use different tools to support their including discussion boards or conferencing tools. Due to drivers such as globalization, new ways of working have arisen. In response to these changing environments, enterprises have begun to connect and work together through online communities, valuing the benefits[29]:

- Access to information and expertise, regardless of time and space
- Access to mutual support
- Opportunities to collaborate and learn from one and another virtually
- Dynamic new approaches of learning

Especially individuals that are moved into new situations and environments, due to new job roles for instance, benefit from virtual communities for learning. Learning communities provide incipient professionals with ready access to established practitioners’ knowledge and experience. Furthermore, teams or individuals that implement strategic changes within an organization or those who work at the forefront tackling new situations and unique incidents can derive great value from virtual learning communities.

Nevertheless, not only the professionals, but also the organization itself can benefit of implementing VLC’s. Those advantages may include shared information and expertise, team building, knowledge management, improved communication, dynamic problem-solving, increased productivity or continuing professional development.

There are various approaches of how an ideal VLC has to be developed and what it should contain. With regard to Carr-Chellman and Duchastell (2000), there are six key components[30]:

- No online textbook
- A study guide
- Online examples
- Online communication
- Interactive skill building

New networking technologies and an evolving demand for virtual employee development possibilities’ will support the use of VLC’s.

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2.2 Learning Theory

2.2.1 Situated Learning and Legitimate Peripheral Participation

The use of tools and media to extend, reorganize or support mental functions has not been put in relation with cognitive theories of learning yet and educational achievement fails in making use of technology and the need for reshaping social and individual interactions, driven by new media that dramatically transforms the basic patterns of communication and knowledge sharing[31].

Human minds tend to develop in social situations, that’s a fact. Lave and Wenger, two of the most recognized thought leaders in this field, stress the importance of the environment, both physical and social[32]. They develop the term of “situated learning”.

Our institutions are constituted in a way that learning is seen as an individual process, which is separated from other activities[33]. Often, learning is felt as boring and arduous due to the institutionalized teaching and training. ). Situated learning theory has emerged during the past decade as an alternative to cognitive perspectives on learning[34]. Lave and Wenger adopted a different perspective on learning. They point out a connection between social interaction and knowledge-gaining and see learning more as a social phenomenon.

As a reflection of Laves and Wenger’s assumptions, their theory is focused on learning through social participation, not just by physical appearance but more in consequence of being an active participant in a community of practice for instance.

In dependence on Lave and Wenger, situated learning has three main characteristics:

- Legitimate Peripheral Participation
- Knowledge needs to be presented in authentic contexts
- Community of Practice

Legitimate Peripheral Participation refers to how newcomers adopt to CoP. From their point of view, newcomers should quickly move from peripheral to full participation, which depends on the power structure and social dynamics. It describes the process of becoming part of the CoP. There are several aspects influencing the realization of the principle of legitimate peripheral participation in a virtual community[35]:

- re-establishing shared context
- access to and transparency of the community
- access for newcomers to information, resources and opportunities for participation

2.2.2 Organizational Learning in Communities of Practice

The organizational learning literature has provided numerous definitions which differ from researcher to researcher. Nevertheless, there is a general consensus amongst them that organizational learning represents a process by which new knowledge creation, which is said to constitute a potentially means for promoting and sustaining competitiveness, is developed by an organization[36]. Creating a culture of knowledge within an organization is the basic assumption underlying the theory of organizational learning and is important for achieving competitive advantage. Each enterprise can become a learning organization through sharing knowledge amongst their individuals, for instance through the establishment of a community.

Cook and Yanow (1993) describe learning as the learning as the acquisition and challenge through collective actions embedded in the organizations artifacts[37]. Brown and Duguid (2001) argue that conventional learning separates from at-work learning[38]. From their point of view, organizations should be seen as communities of communities of practice. Each sub-community recruits newcomers that learn from the experienced ones[39]. Newcomers have to do both, engage, participate and become full-members and establish their own identity.

But how can organizations learn from a macro-perspective? Michel Callon (1991) describes a four-stage process using the case study of the domestication of the scallops and fishermen of St. Brieuc Bay[40]:

- First, he introduces the stage of “problemization”, in which one part of the actors defines a problem in a way that others can recognize it as their own too (marine researchers pointed out the problem of declining stocks of the scallops to the fishermen)
- The second stage is the stage of “interessement” in which the researchers try to gain commitment to set a goal and a course of action they propose (fishermen agreed to stand back and give the researchers a try to manage the stock of scallops)
- The third phase is named “Enrolment” in which the allies are defined and the proposed course of action is carried out
- Fourth, the “mobilization” takes place in which the researchers reduced the fishermen to a handful of spokesmen so that they can share the progress being made to their shared goals

This four-stage process can be regarded as a concept that is also very useful to understand the power relations amongst communities of practice, in which a “master” shows novices what to do.

The established body of organizational learning literature conceptualizes learning as a cognitive process involving bodies of knowledge within and from one context such as a classroom, training or mentoring[41]. For Lave and Wenger, learning is located or situated within every day practices as an integrative part of generative social practice embedded in the organization. Community of Practice as social learning systems

In accordance to Wenger, a CoP can be regarded as a social learning system[42]. Social systems include practices in which we live and learn. Communities of Practice exhibit many characteristics of systems such as self-organization, dynamic boundaries, ongoing negotiation or emergent structure. In a sense, a CoP is the simplest social unit that has the characteristics of a social learning system.

Learning is conceived to occur as individuals become members of communities in which they participate actively. Within communities of practice it is rather the ability to act and read the local context in ways that other members value and recognize it than the acquisition of skill or knowledge with a textbook for instance. The principal element of Lave and Wenger’s situated learning theory is the notion of the community of practice in which the individual members learn by participating in shared activity[43]. The learning process is tied to ongoing activities and practices done by communities of people through social interaction by individuals.

Lave and Wenger cite five examples in which they find triadic group relations between masters, young masters and apprentices. They argue that these power relations differ fundamentally from those between teacher and student. In this respect, the newcomers must learn from the experienced ones by routine aspects of practice which is called “legitimate peripheral participation[44]”. As a result, their legitimacy increases by mastering these practices and they identify more and more with community of practice.

Learning as the production of practice creates boundaries that are not necessarily visible or explicit, because sharing a history of learning distinguishes those who were involved from those who were not[45]. The participants share an understanding of what matters, resources as well as relationships. Because of the boundaries, an inherent locality to engagement and practice exists. The production of practice is unpredictable as social systems are dynamic.

The learning and innovative potential of a social system lies in the coexistence of practices and boundaries across them. Online collaborative learning

Before focusing on collaborative learning and virtual learning environments, collaborative technology should be defined. According to Roschelle (1992), a collaborative technology is a tool that enables individuals to jointly engage in active production of shared knowledge and can be defined in reference to a big goal[46]: “The construction of a communal ways of seeing, acting and knowing[47]”. A digitized community for instance is a collaborative technology tool that can enable various participants to construct a shared understanding of a topic and can be used for mutual production of new practices. Collaborative technology builds the foundation for a community of practice and it allows the participants to reconstruct a shared experience focusing on giving it a greater meaning and importance for successful future actions.

Besides the collaborative technology, the idea of educational processes as processes of socialization (Lave & Wenger) need to be taken into consideration in terms of collaborative learning in a virtual environment[48]. While establishing a virtual educational program, the socialization structures need to be made explicit.

Creating learning environments require that we rather view collaborative learning as a process taking place in a context such as a community of practice and not only look at it as a restricted concept. This means that the view from single knowledge acquisition moves towards an understanding of structures that support possible communities.

The challenge is to find out which socialization structures are missing in a virtual context and to build them in the design of the interface delivered to the learning community.

According to Lazakidou, a framework for collaborative learning environments includes three characteristics[49]: A proper analysis of the user requirements and the context of use, a prototype design and development phase as well as a documented evaluation of the prototype with a pre-analysis, usability phase and learning phase.

Lewis and Allan (2005) regard a virtual learning community as a set up for a specific purpose such as to support employee development[50]. From their point of view, online collaborative learning environments can be build for various reasons:

- a strategic response for an identified need for workforce development
- to encourage multi-professional integrated response to complex situations
- to enable workers to overcome geographical boundaries
- to support continuous professional development
- to support training or learning programmes

Timothy (2004) describes the term of collaborative learning as a hardly new idea and states that almost all formal learning today still takes place in an environment in which people are expected to learn individually[51]. The Russian psychologist Vygotsky (1978) explored the causal relationship between social interaction and individual learning that can be put in relation to Wengers and Laves outcomes. Today, the benefits of collaborative learning are widely known such as the stimulation of critical thinking or building self-esteem but they are rarely practiced and almost barely put in correlation with a virtual environment.

The model for a constructivist learning environment of Jonassen (1999) illustrates how a learning infrastructure should be build. One could match this framework to a virtual setting:

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Illustration 2: Model for constructivist learning environment[52]

The model is based around an authentic activity, which may be a project, problem or case that the learning group must solve. This activity, case or problem should reflect the tasks undertaken by real-world practitioners in the discipline as for instance a consultant who worked on a similar case in a specific industry. The model suggests a range of resources and tools that should aid learners throughout the task. The key feature in this model is the implementation of related cases, which could be transmitted to a virtual community of practice, where similar cases could be used to accelerate the solving process.

Furthermore, O’Neil and Perez (2006) have developed a model in this scheme, they present an evaluation system for web-based learning environments.

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Illustration 3: Evaluating Web-based learning environments[53]

With respect to applying an employee development methodology for DCOP’s, this framework can be taken as a foundation for evaluation to secure high quality.

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2.3 Community of Practice

2.3.1 Terms and Definitions

Lave and Wenger developed the concept of Communities of Practice, which provides a framework by which we can focus our understanding of informal collaborative learning that occurs outside of a formal classroom[54]. The most popular definition is that of Wenger et al (2002): “A CoP 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[55]”.

Gibbs and Wadley (2012) define Communities of Practice as “important social structures for creating and sharing knowledge[56]”. They suggest that “organizations should develop and support communities of practice for effective knowledge management[57]”.

Schön (2001) argues that the term of Communities of Practice is being used around a lot of international companies that can be defined as “expert-networks” or “knowledge-communities[58]”. Schön states that most of the intellectual capital of an enterprise can be related to the knowledge-workers. For this reason it might be very useful to connect members that work on similar problems or have a comparable knowledge about a certain task.

2.3.2 Characteristics of Community of Practice

According to Wenger, we all belong to Communities of Practice, so to say at school or work or even in a sports team. The phenomenon of Communities of Practice already existed for centuries but was not named this way[59]. In early history, hunters for example formed groups called “informative communities” that worked in a similar way.

MC Dermott and Snyder (2002) also state that CoP have been around ever since: “Looking over history, it can be seen that all ancient civilizations from Egypt to China and Rome established tradesmen’s societies[60]


[1] Morgan, J. (2012), p.1

[2] cf. Dobbs, R.; Manyika, J.; Roxburgh, C.; Lund, S. (2012), pp. 1 sqq.

[3] cf. Morgan, J. (2012), p.2

[4] cf. Dobbs, R.; Manyika, J.; Roxburgh, C.; Lund, S. (2012), pp. 1 sqq.

[5] cf. Barrientos, M.; Brousseau, D.; Pareschi, M.; Lesser, E. (2010) , pp. 1 sqq.

[6] cf. Dobbs, R.; Manyika, J.; Roxburgh, C.; Lund, S. (2012), pp. 1 sqq.

[7] cf. Dobbs, R.; Manyika, J.; Roxburgh, C.; Lund, S. (2012), pp. 1 ff.

[8] cf. Dobbs, R.; Manyika, J.; Roxburgh, C.; Lund, S. (2012), pp. 1 sqq.

[9] cf. Barrientos, M.; Brousseau, D.; Pareschi, M.; Lesser, E. (2010) , pp. 1 ff.

[10] cf. Wenger, E.; McDermott, R.; Snyder, W. (2002), pp.10 sqq.

[11] cf. El Morr, C.; Maret, P. (2011), pp.1 sqq.

[12] cf. Dietrichs, J. (2010), p.2

[13] cf. Dietrichs, J. (2010), p.2 f.

[14] cf. Back, A.; Gronau, N.; Tochtermann, K., Oldenbourg (2009), p.64, cited Rheingold, H. (1993), p.3

[15] cf. Dasgupta, S. (2006), p.1

[16] cf. Dasgupta, S. (2006), p.1

[17] cf. Dasgupta, S. (2006), p.1

[18] cf. Renninger, K.; Shumar, W. (2002), p.1 f.

[19] cf. Smith, Marc A.; Kollock (1999), pp. 1 sqq.

[20] cf. Smith, Marc A.; Kollock (1999), pp.1 sqq.

[21] cf. Smith, Marc A.; Kollock (1999), p.1 f.

[22] cf. Back, A.; Gronau, N.; Tochtermann, K., Oldenbourg (2009), p.64

[23] cf. Porter, C. (2004), (date:27.05.2013)

[24] Adapted from: Annetta, L.; Folta, E.; Klesath, M. (2010), p.92 f.

[25] cf. Annetta, L.; Folta, E.; Klesath, M. (2010), p.92 f.

[26] cf. Lewis, D.; Allan, B. (2005), p.5

[27] cf. Lewis, D.; Allan, B. (2005), p.6 f.

[28] cf. Luppicini, R. (2007), p.5 f.

[29] cf. Lewis, D.; Allan, B. (2005), p.15 f.

[30] cf. Car-Chellman, A.; Duchastel, P.(2000), cited Palloff, Rena M. (2007), p. 39

[31] cf. Lave, J.; Wenger, E (1991), p.11 f.

[32] cf. Roberts, T. (2004), p.7

[33] cf. Illeris, K. (2008), p.209

[34] cf. Contu, A.; Willmott, H. (2011) pp. 2 sqq.

[35] cf. Holmfeld-D., L.; Sorensen.K., E. (2006), cited Back, A. (2009), p. 70

[36] cf. Jung, Y.; Takeuchi, N. (2010) pp. 3 ff.

[37] cf. Cook, S.; Yanow, D. (1993)

[38] cf. Brown, J.-S.; Duguid, P. (2001)

[39] cf. Fox, S. (2000) p.1 f.

[40] cf. Callon, M. (1991)

[41] cf. Contu, A.; Willmott, H. (2011) pp. 2 sqq.

[42] cf. Wenger, E. (1991), cited Fox, S. (2000), pp. 2 ff.

[43] cf. Fox, S. (2000) p. 1 f.

[44] cf. Fox, S. (2000) p. 2 f.

[45] cf. Wenger, E. (1999), cited Fox, S. (2000), pp. 2 ff.

[46] cf. Roschelle, J. (1992), pp. 1 ff.

[47] cf. Roschelle, J. (1992), p. 2

[48] cf. Dirckinck, H.-L. ; Sorensen, K. E. (1999), pp. 1 ff.

[49] cf. Lazakidou, A.-A. (2012), pp. 15 ff.

[50] cf. Lewis, D. ; Allan, B. (2005), pp. 1 ff.

[51] cf. Timothy, R.-S. (2004), pp. 5 ff.

[52] Adapted from: Timothy, R. – S. (2004), p. 7

[53] Adapted from: O’Neil, H. ; Ray, S. Perez (2006), p. 13

[54] cf. Hara, N. (2009), p. 2

[55] cf. Wenger, E. (1998), p. 2 f.

[56] cf. Gibbs, R. M., Wadley, G. et al. (2012), p. 1

[57] cf. Gibbs, R. M., Wadley, G. et al. (2012), p. 1

[58] cf. Schön, S. (2001), p. 56

[59] cf. Zboralski, K. (2007), pp. 25 ff.

[60] cf. Penfold, P. (2010), p. 1

Excerpt out of 77 pages


Communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing in the course of the digital era
An examination of virtual communities as organizational units and their impact on capitalizing on collective intelligence and work efficiency using the example of "Communities of Practice"
University of Cooperative Education Stuttgart; Horb
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ISBN (Book)
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10870 KB
Die vorliegende Projektarbeit erforscht die praktische Umsetzung lokaler Communities of Practice auf virtuelle Ebene und nimmt Stellung zu relevanten Erkenntnissen wie Human Resource Development, Knowledge Sharing, Virtuelle Communities und Communities of Practice. Die Arbeit schließt mit zwei Navigatoren ab, welche erheblichen Mehrwert sowohl auf theoretischer als auch praktischer Ebene bieten.
Collaboration, Community of Practice, Communication, Human Resource Development, Personalwesen, Web 2.0, Unternehmenskommunikation, Knowledge Sharing, Wissensaustausch, Virtuelle Community
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Sebastian Schulz (Author), 2013, Communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing in the course of the digital era, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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