Organizational Learning and Communities of Practice

community of practiceHow strong is the link between organizational learning and communities of practice? Well, they’re not mutually exclusive, but they are not interdependent either. The thing is, the concepts developed independently from various experts in the same basic fields, but that’s not to say that you can’t use them together.

Using organizational learning and communities of practice together is actually a pretty clever idea, and we’ll teach you a little bit about how to do that in a minute. But first, let’s take a mandatory look at what the two concepts are. Let’s keep this brief, though.

Organizational learning is an environment of training and learned adaptation wherein the entire group of entities functions as an interdependent collective during the training process. This is in contrast to scholastic learning environments such as lectures, where individuals may participate with one another disparately in some cases, but the individual is the final unit.

Communities of practice are another social pseudo construct of similar nature. Communities of practice are associative collections of individuals with common interests within a topic or a given domain of knowledge. They may not all have the same specific expertise, talent or job, but all of their talents and expertise collectively target a specific entity or specialty.

So, we see the advantages of both, obviously. We see that organizational learning is kind of a crowdsourcing method for learning, where the interrelations of the units as a single force promotes help and even dispersal of knowledge to all speeds of learners and all personality types. It has obstacles of a social form to overcome, but that’s well documented, rest assured.

Communities of practice is a good categorization and grouping of like minds, and these can evolve naturally as all parts are related to a collective mission. They seem made for each other, don’t they? Oddly, only now are people starting to use them together in a direct way.

But I’m not going to teach you their way. I’m going to actually bring in another training method, knowledge management. This is just organizational learning with a series of units that have small groups of individuals, rather than one or two large groups. It’s intended for easier micromanagement and throttling of learning speed over the collective group. But, we’re not going to use that literal model. We’re going to create communities of practice out of all the trainees. Then, we will treat these communities of practice as large organizational learning groups. Within them, we will divide the communities of practice into small knowledge management cells, which link together through learning officers in each cell, as well as shuffling the groupings once a cycle to ensure interrelation.

What you have here is a tree hierarchy of learning that is easy to manage on multiple levels, and is efficient in architecture, flow, and compartmentalization. This is a hybrid I highly recommend to those wishing to get training right. Training may not be your normal job, but do it right, and try using organizational learning and communities of practice in this hybrid model, and see if you don’t get amazing results. It sounds complicated, but when you chart it on paper, it makes perfect sense.


Jason Silberman
Jason is the former Lead Author & Editor of TrainingStation Blog
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