How can a community of practice process and concept support undergraduates learning experiences?

O'Kelly, Jane (2016) How can a community of practice process and concept support undergraduates learning experiences?


The theory of Communities of Practice (COP) has evolved from an expression of the situated learning taking place in the relationship between apprentice and master (Lave and Wenger, 1991), to organisational knowledge capture and knowledge management (Rivera, 2011; Iverson and McPhee, 2002) to social learning containers in EU funded projects (Wenger, 2009) to sustainable development enterprises (Bradbury and Middlemiss, 2014). Increasingly, the concept of communities of practice within education is suggested as a valuable and useful tool for sharing of practice, resources and ideas.

This study focuses on the introduction of an online community of practice into the final year of an undergraduate degree in education and training. The research was undertaken through a collective case study using a mixed methods approach to examine two separate year groups of students’ reactions to, and use of a COP. Data was collected through interview, survey, focus group and examination of Facebook and COP posts. Two quantitative instruments developed by Rovai - the Classroom Community Scale (2002) and The CAP Perceived Learning Scale (2009) - were used to ascertain students’ sense of community and level of learning. Students’ also completed the Kolb Learning Styles Inventory (2007) in order to identify the influence, if any, of learning styles on interaction online.

This study found that students perceived a number of benefits from participating in a COP. These included a greater connections with peers through sharing insights and resources; alleviation of stress through benchmarking with peers; high levels of affective, cognitive and psychomotor learning; direct and timely access to expert assistance and feedback, and a recognition that collaboration and co-operation is not only useful but desirable when pursuing individual goals in a shared domain. There was no clear relationship between learning style, sense of community and levels of learning. Students who declared an Accommodating and/or Diverging learning style tended to interact more than those with Assimilating or Converging learning styles. This is consistent with the characteristics of these styles. The COP also provided a bridging online space for traditional and mature students to engage with each other, overcoming assumptions and stereotypical attitudes in the process.

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