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Practical Application Of eLearning Communities Of Practice

Communities of practice have long been at the heart of knowledge management and are underpinned by 3 key features:

  1. Members share a passion for a particular professional activity.
  2. Members strive to learn, apply, and to master that activity.
  3. Community members actively share their knowledge with their community.

Communities of practice generally operate formally with a leader or leadership group, identified objectives, and an established means of communication. A less structured coalition of like-minded professionals can also operate as effectively as a community of practice, but the best functioning communities are almost always formally structured. Let us see how to practically apply eLearning communities of practice.

eLearning Communities Of Practice: Why Establish One?

Often in organizations, people and teams engaged in eLearning are distributed across business groups, and are without a mechanism by which they can function as a community. Equally, professionals located in a defined eLearning group might not always function like a community. Either scenario can hamper the delivery of eLearning to an organization:

  • Limited channels for communication prevents the sharing of working knowledge which leads to divergence in the application of technologies and eLearning production standards.
  • Limited sharing of knowledge holds back the timely delivery of quality eLearning content.
  • Training and development of eLearning skills are not co-ordinated, leading to gaps in knowledge, and unnecessary software and training expenses.

In the eLearning context, a strong community of practice would comprise members from across the organization, and if a community already exists, would provide members with the opportunity, the tools, and the support to share and collaborate on eLearning.

4 Benefits Of eLearning Communities Of Practice

The benefits of taking the time to properly establish and nurture an eLearning community of practice focus on a range of outcomes for the business and also for individual community members:

  1. With shared knowledge, eLearning teams can respond faster to business learning needs, and also to new developments in eLearning.
  2. Problem solving can be more effectively and efficiently executed through access to expertise and networks.
  3. Increased development of the skills and knowledge of individuals in the business.
  4. Members’ external industry engagement can be leveraged to identify external contacts and opportunities.

Applying An eLearning Community Of Practice 

What would an eLearning community of practice actually do? The practical application of communities of practice in the eLearning environment can take many forms:

1. A Virtual Connection Point.

Overcoming the distributed geography of a community can prove a challenge, and would require the use of a virtual solution where community members can readily access shared documentation, readings and learnings, discussion groups, and email distributions lists for questions to community experts.

2. Face-To-Face Connections. 

The community can also facilitate opportunities for meetings featuring case studies from within the business, demonstrations of new technologies, or the co-ordination of skills-based workshops for community members, as well as facilitating the attendance of external guest speakers. Face-to-face interaction could be localized to small pods of practitioners, or conferenced group-wide meetings.

3. Working Groups.

Where necessary, an eLearning community of practice could form working groups to evaluate new technologies and practices to ensure the best technologies are being used by the business. This could be the evaluation of eLearning technologies for application in the business, contributing to the introduction or upgrade of a Learning Management System, or virtual classrooms and social learning tools.

4. Collateral Development. 

An eLearning community may work towards:

  • Documentation of best practices and standards for eLearning in an organization.
  • The development of precedents for eLearning, i.e. storyboards and session plans.
  • Development of competency standards for eLearning professionals that can underpin business-wide stewardship in this area.

5. Innovation. 

An eLearning community of practice can also act as an innovation incubator and may encourage the development of new ways to deliver eLearning to the business.

6. Alliances.

Importantly, an eLearning community would focus on alignment with the business’s information technology group to ensure technical support for eLearning delivery, and on-going development. This might take the form of a group envoy that manages the relationship and that returns intelligence on technology’s focus and priorities to the eLearning community.

Conclusion

A successful eLearning community of practice might adopt some or all of these initiatives, but its success will be measured by its ability and its willingness to share, collaborate, and support, and in doing so ensure that eLearning is a prominent feature of the business and its learning environment.

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