Community of Practice and Technology in Education
Education and technology have always driven one another to improve. And from this mutually beneficial relationship, different approaches to organizing education emerge, some poised to disrupt the entire industry.
As you read this, the education system is in the midst of introducing major alterations. The normalisation of indispensable tools like the internet is leaving room for terrific innovations. And with it come opportunities to introduce new dynamics of learning or reinvent previously existing ones.
And the intersection of teaching, technology, and the concept of a community of practice promises very fruitful outcomes. With the e-learning market on its way to reaching a whopping $325 billion in 2021, the environment is clearly ripe for introducing different solutions.
Quick Primer on Communities of Practice
Those not familiar with the term “community of practice” might be feeling out of the loop at this point. This section will help you navigate the rest of this piece much easier. You’ll get a broad-stroke understanding of what CoPs are and what unique benefits they offer.
Community of practice is a very broad term, but most agree that it refers to any group involved in a collaborative effort to reach a goal. That goal can be anything from solving an engineering problem to creating new modes of artistic expression. However, the underlying point is that these practices always contain a network that spreads and generates new knowledge or skills.
Experts usually divide communities of practice into three key components. These are:
- The domain – the shared area of interest that the community forms around (like writing fiction, for example)
- The community – the people sharing this interest and interacting with one another to create and propagate a pool of knowledge
- The practice – the act of generating innovation and spreading knowledge through various means
One of the main perks that a CoP offers is a collective, organic spreading of knowledge and skills. It’s a very efficient, self-sustaining system that lacks most traditional oversight or red tape. That said, it’s not purely anarchic in nature. Rather, it’s simply a collective effort that flows dynamically.
Beyond that, a community of practice encourages a heutagogy-centric approach. This means that autonomy, capacity, and capability become the crux of student learning. Such a way of learning fosters independence in learners, a useful real-world soft skill.
Technology’s Role in Integrating Education and Communities of Practice
The most disruptive pieces of technology to the standard teaching model are 1) online courses and learning platforms and 2) online files updated in real-time. They essentially remove the centralized hierarchy of the teacher imparting knowledge to the learners. In its stead, they bring in a more community-driven group effort to learn and innovate, with knowledge sources and forums freely available to participants.
However, this shift does not take place just along the teacher-student line. Rather, it also reconstructs relations horizontally, allowing teachers to teach other teachers and perfect each other’s skills. In fact, the application of a community of practice is particularly effective in connecting educators and technology in that sense, primarily through professional development courses and activities. It has also shown itself to be useful in connecting otherwise isolated administrators with the rest of the staff.
Technology centrally serves as a conduit through which to ease the communal teaching process. For instance, files able to be shared and updated on the cloud allow for the transfer of knowledge to occur faster and with greater ease. And assets like forums allow for a place where community members can quickly inquire about anything they’re interested in.
In all likelihood, the SAMR model will be integral in introducing these technological methodologies in schools. In short, SAMR refers to a framework of integrating new solutions to accomplish old tasks better and enable new ones to be performed. It’s a fairly simple model that can smooth out the transformation into a digital learning place.
How Community of Practice Differs in Education
The education industry has a unique relationship with the CoP paradigm. In other niches, the CoP model serves as a means to achieve a specific goal, be it perfecting or innovating. This goal is usually separate from the methodology itself – how you manage to invent a new kind of can opener doesn’t really affect how one uses the product.
Education, on the other hand, works differently. Rather than the network of knowledge serving as a way to make a product, knowledge is the product. This makes the way communities relate information doubly crucial, at both the teacher and learner end. How any given educational organization approaches teaching makes it fundamentally different from other organizations.
For that reason, implementing a community of practice dynamic in this industry is more difficult and time-consuming. Any change that radical will inevitably have to be taken in gradually, leading to deep and wide changes in practice.
Introducing new teaching systems, setting up new hardware and software, onboarding and training, new administrational issues – these are some of the many obstacles to a clean migration to a CoP model. And that’s not even mentioning cultural pushback from an institution that is, at its core, still very traditional in many respects, despite the progress it’s made over the years.
However, provided education sector finds working solutions for all relevant issues, how we view teaching and learning could change immensely. Rather than being a top-most authority of skill and information, the teacher would turn into something more of a mentor or coach. Meanwhile, education itself would become a decentralised, cooperative effort, wherein communities promote contribution and learning by self-initiative.
Image Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto