Communities of practice and individual learning outcomes

http://www.flickr.com/photos/interplast/55755997/ (cc 2.0)

http://www.flickr.com/photos/interplast/55755997/ (cc 2.0)

Research Question: What essential behaviours do members of a community of practice engage in, and how can they be measured?

Abstract: The community of practice (CoP) concept has grown in popularity, yet remains under-studied. In particular, we have not developed a sufficient understanding of the individual outcomes associated with CoP engagement. This paper offers a fresh research model that identifies three practice-based concepts described in the CoP literature—shared repertoire, joint enterprise, and mutual engagement—and links them to individual learning outcomes. Survey measures are developed using a card sorting procedure, a research model is pilot tested using survey data collected from 53 graduate students in a large Canadian university, and then the model is field-tested using interview and survey data collected from 59 employees in a non-profit organization. The paper offers a new set of distinct CoP measures, and examines how they are associated with learning. A discussion of practical implications and future research directions is provided.

Model:

CoP research model v5

Findings: Pilot study results revealed that learning was positively and significantly influenced by shared repertoire (“the historical, social and physical resources shared by participants within the community”), joint enterprise (“the extent to which people in the CoP hold a common identity and mutual accountability with one another”) and mutual engagement (“the extent to which CoP members are collectively exposed to, and work on, a common class of problems through informal interaction”), ultimately explaining 78% of the variance in learning outcomes. These results were replicated in the field sample, and explained 69% of the variance in learning outcomes.

Implications: Much of the research into CoPs to date has focused on group-level qualitative evidence. In contrast this paper provides an individual perspective using balanced (quantitative and qualitative) data sources. It offers and demonstrates new mechanisms for learning and understanding about individuals’ CoP behaviors. Three specific behaviors are examined: shared repertoire, joint enterprise and mutual engagement, each of which was found to significantly influence the individual learning outcomes, in both pilot and field trials. These results may afford business leaders with a measurable, practicable set of “strategic levers” for experimenting with and improving individual learning within the CoP context.

Citation: Neufeld, D.J., Fang, Y. & Wan, Z. (2013). Community of practice behaviors and individual learning outcomes. Group Decision and Negotiation 22(4), pp. 617-639. [link]