La première partie de ce guide expose rapidement la notion de communauté virtuelle ; la deuxième partie rappelle la situation d’apprentissage (le contexte) et décrit les rapports qui peuvent exister entre communautés virtuelles et apprentissage ; la troisième partie définit le travail collaboratif et propose des méthodes pour pratiquer et optimiser celui-ci en communautés virtuelles d’apprentissage.
Six Mexican higher education institutions participated in this project, and this article will talk about their faculty experiences with a community of practice that used innovative applications and new technologies. Also, this article describes how OER were used in the K-12 educational level through the portal website of TEMOA, the academic search engine developed by Tecnológico de Monterrey to help teachers with the design and instruction of their courses.
The paper reflects on institutional development practices regarding the dimensions and models of collaboration and innovation within communities and networks of practice. A frame of reference is used, which aids the analysis of the OER diffusion and adoption processes in each case.
Communities of practice (CoPs) can also become a powerful way for SMEs to innovate and develop new capabilities, as they consist of voluntary members who share similar challenges, interact regularly, can learn from and with each other and would like to improve their ability to address the challenges they face.
In this paper we first summarise the current training needs and learning methods used in SMEs, outlining the features of Web 2.0 that may be utilised to fulfil these needs. Then we discuss if Communities of Practice are a suitable environment for informal learning within SMEs. Finally we offer an example of how informal learning and CoPs can efficiently improve skills within SMEs.
1. eLearning and SMEs
Some years ago, the introduction and use of eLearning in small and medium sized companies (SMEs) has been seen as unproblematic and, in fact, as a “royal path” to answering training needs in SMEs (Sun Microsystems 2003). It was assumed that managers of SMEs would recognize the problem of meeting adequately the continuous training needs of their staff for innovation and that the updating of professional knowledge and skills could be supported by eLearning, as cheap, just in time training taking place on-line and/or at the working place.
Research carried out in different European and national studies (i.e. Attwell et al., 2003) and in projects (e.g. ARIEL, financed within the eLearninginitiative – www.ariel-eu.net; Beer et al., 2006) show that eLearning is used ever since mainly in big companies. SMEs use Internet and eLearning predominantly for product advertising (particularly through web sites) and only 7 % for human resources.
These studies and projects (Hamburg et al., 2004; 2005) also show that the low use of eLearning in European SMEs is mainly due to:
- Training culture within the SMEs which is often dependent on trainer and conventional training methods; skills needed for a more independent approach and the use of new media for learning are missing. There is a lack of “long-term” vocational strategies for the staff based on deep analysis of their qualification needs – another used learning strategy in SMEs is “learning by doing”.
- SMEs managers have not enough knowledge or are not convinced of the effectiveness of eLearning. The Staff has a lack of time and motivation to test new learning methods.
- Appropriate software and contents for SMEs are missing. The major part of commercial eLearning software is modelled on the requirements of big enterprises or higher education and SMEs can not afford to pay tailor-made ones. The existing training offers in supporting specific business needs of SMEs are often inadequate and/or unattractive. A continuous cooperation between eLearning-developers, -providers (eLearning market) and SMEs which could improve this situation is missing.
At present most European SMEs act alone in facing their training problems. For future development it is necessary to strengthen cooperation with other SMEs, with large enterprises, with training providers and public institutions (e.g. Chambers of Commerce). One suitable solution for SMEs is to build communities of practice (Palloff et al., 1999; Johnson 2001; Wenger et al., 2002) to share knowledge, to apply best practices in technology-enhanced learning and to develop business-oriented models of eLearning for them. Such forms of co-operation could stimulate new experiments, new actions and new directions for learning.
The European Commission and almost all European Member States provide support in some form or other to the fostering of eLearning in SMEs, but in many countries education and training are fragmented with responsibilities in different policy areas and agencies. As a result there is a lack of integrated support services for SMEs in which learning, and in particular eLearning, is a key component in the portfolio.
2. Examples of training strategies for SMEs based on eLearning
Based on the results of ARIEL and other projects, the European project SIMPEL started this year within eLearning initiative (http://www.simpel-net.eu). It is aimed at improving the eLearning use in SMEs by participative development of sustainable eLearning based training strategies and models. These strategies and models will be developed and disseminated including also good practices in eLearning for SMEs. One of the activities within the project is the organization of workshops and seminars in all partner countries with representants of SMEs, eLearning developers and providers, trainers, eLearning experts, regional authorities and researchers. The first meetings were used to discuss different eLearning based training strategies and for searching ways to convince SMEs about the advantages of eLearning. The tasks for next workshops and seminars are the development and dissemination of training models for the most suitable strategies.
Two general strategies for introducing eLearning to be followed by the companies discussed on the German workshop within SIMPEL are the following:
A) The strategy of minimal change e.g. introducing of new media and training concepts should involve only minimal changes in the structures and processes of the company. Through a latent implementation the acceptance of the new media by trainers will be assured and the staff is automatically introduced to the new tools and learning methods.
B) In contrast to the minimal change strategy active change includes a review of the organisation, its infrastructure, learning culture and business strategy as appropriate to the new learning objectives, concepts and methods.
For more efficiency, strategy B should be followed. For reasons of acceptance often the starting point is, however, strategy A. Actors concerned with the introduction of eLearning ought to be conscious of the fact that the minimal change approach may be suitable as long as eLearning is seen as a first experiment. As soon as a serious commitment is made to eLearning any conception has to rest on active change.
Another discussed problem at the workshop was the starting point in developing and implementing a training strategy for SMEs based on eLearning. Firstly, the business objectives of the companies should be analysed, the existing problems and needs which can be solved by improving the training strategy of the company and by the use of eLearning. The introduction of eLearning should be integrated into the whole qualification programme of the company and supported by technical and organisational measures. The advantages of eLearning should be known by managers and staff (i.e. in rapport with the competitors) and evaluation procedures should be carried up regularly for the eLearning programmes. Knowledge about eLearning market and a “long term” cooperation with an eLearning developer/provider are necessary.
Within SIMPEL a European community of practice was initiated to promote models of eLearning good practices and to attract staff who are engaged in support, training, design/development, use, consulting and policy formulation concerning eLearning in SMEs in the European Union, starting with the countries, where SIMPEL partners are active. The community will provide professional support for SMEs in using eLearning. Access to documents and discussions are supported by a Moodle-based platform offering accessibility and flexibility (Hargadon, S., 2006; Busse et al., 2007). The choice of Moodle was based first on an analysis of some open source virtual learning environments referring sustainability and viability (that influence the costs for adoption and further developments of the system) and of the pedagogical rationale of the environment. Secondly, we decided to use Moodle because some of the partners already have good experience and competence with this environment.
At the moment the active part of the community is in Germany. It starts the activity of adaptation the frames for the development of training strategies by using eLearning (which have been developed within SIMPEL and which can be use in Europe) to specific situation of German SMEs.Representatives of German SMEs and eLearning experts/producers are contacted to join the community.
The language used is German and the community works more virtually but also face to face meetings are planned. The experience gained in Germany will be used in all partner countries.
In order to work efficiently in new upcoming contexts SMEs are required to improve their learning strategies. eLearning can contribute to the achievement of needed competences and at the same time can meet the pronounced needs for flexibility in SMEs.
Experience gained by authors in this context within national and European projects (e.g. ARIEL www.ariel-eu.net, SIMPEL www.simpel-net.eu) shows that it is important, to help SMEs to design, implement and evaluate suitable models of training for them based on eLearning i.e. within communities of practice because many SMEs have not always the resources and knowledge to do this alone.
Important aspects to be considered are re-examination of SME’s current position and business goals, development of solutions to improve their situation, a professional establishment of vocational training needs of the staff in this context and to include eLearning as a part of the company training plan that addresses and resources infrastructure, development, media and a didactic approach.
Attwell, G., Dirckinck-Holmfeld, L., Fabian, P., Kárpáti, A. & Littig, P. (2003). E-Learning in Europe – Results and Recommendations. Thematic Monitoring under the LEONARDO DA VINCI Programme. Report. Impuls 010. Bonn.
Beer, D., Busse, T., Hamburg, I., Mill, U. & Paul, H. (2006). e-learning in European SMEs: observations, analyses & forecasting Münster, Waxmann ISBN 3-8309-1631-0.
Busse, T., Hamburg, I. & Engert, S. (2007). Improving collaboration and participation in E-Learning for SMEs by suitable models supported by virtual learning environments, presentation at the “Moodle 2007”, March 28-29, 2007, University of Duisburg-Essen.
Hamburg, I. & Lindecke, Ch. (2004). E-Learning für kleine und mittlere Unternehmen: eine Untersuchung europäischer Projekte. In Pangalos, J., Knutzen, S. & Howe, F. (Eds.) Informatisierung von Arbeit, Technik und Bildung: Kurzfassung der Konferenzbeiträge; GTW-Herbstkonferenz, October 4-5, 2004. Hamburg: Techn. University, 159-162.
Hamburg, I. & Lindecke, Ch. (2005). Lifelong learning, e-learning and business development in small and medium enterprises. In Szücs, A. & Bo, I. (Eds.) Lifelong e-learning: bringing e-learning close to lifelong learning and working life; a new period of uptake: proceedings of THE EDEN 2005 Annual Conference, June 20-23, 2005, 79-84.
Hamburg, I. & Engert, S. (2007). Competency-based Training in SMEs: The Role of E-Learning and E-Competence. In Proceedings of the 6th IASTED International Conference "Web-based Education", March 14-16, 2007, Chamonix, France. Anaheim: Acta Press, 189-193.
Hamburg, I. (2007). Shifting e-Learning in SMEs to a Work-based and Business Oriented Topic. In European Distance and E-Learning Network: New learning 2.0? Emerging digital territories – developing continuities - new divides; THE EDEN Annual Conference 2007, June 13-16, 2007, Naples. CD-ROM. Budapest: EDEN, 4.
Hargadon, S., (2006): Interview with Martin Dougiamas, Creator of Moodle, retrieved August 28, 2007 from http://www.stevehargadon.com/2006/10/interview-with-martin-dougiamas.html.
Johnson, C.M. (2001). A Survey of Current Research on Online Communities of Practice. Internet and Higher Education, 4, 45-60.
Kerres, M. (2001). Multimediale und telemediale Lernumgebungen. – Konzeption und Entwicklung, München, Oldenbourg.
Palloff, R.M. & Pratt, K. (1999). Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Sun Microsystems (2003). E-Learning Framework, Technical White Paper February 2003, retrieved August 28, 2007 from http://www.sun.com/products-n-solutions/edu/whitepapers/pdf/framework.pdf.
Wenger, E., McDermott, R. & Sydner, W. (2002). Cultivativating communities of practice: a guide to managing knowledge. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Etienne Wenger: "All communities of practice need to find their 'spirit', which can be called their learning companionship."
You usually say that communities of practice are a specific type of community. Could you provide us some examples to illustrate this statement?
Not all communities are communities of practice. What characterizes a community of practice is not a common characteristic, like living in the same city or liking a certain type of music: it is that members learn from and with each other about a practice they share. They learn to do something. They may be deepening in an existing practice or creating a new one. They may be engaging in their practice together or mostly using each other as partners to reflect collectively on a practice they engage in somewhere else. Note that learning may be the main reason they come together or a mere side-effect of their mutual engagement in some activities. Whether intentional or not, this joint learning binds members together.
This is of course easy to see in the case of professionals, because their practice is recognized as such in the broader world. It is even sometimes taught in universities and accredited with a degree. There is a community of oncological surgeons in Ontario, Canada, for instance, who have come together to develop their practice of surgery. They discuss new developments in the science, interpret performance data, and compare surgery practices. They also interact with administrators and researchers because their practice is taking place in hospitals and they can only make progress if they are engaged with other stakeholders.
But also in healthcare, more and more common are communities of patients. I know a community of patients with a rare type of blood diseases who have formed a worldwide online community. You may want to call them a support group, because their practice is not recognized as such in the world. At least not yet. But if you look at their exchanges, they are really learning together how to manage their disease. They exchange tricks, experiences, and wisdom. This includes their daily routines, medications, their relationships with their physicians, as well as current research relevant to their disorder. In their exchanges they recognize each other as “practitioners” of the disease, and because of this shared root in practice they respect and trust each other’s contributions to the conversation. They are a community of practice.
I chose these two examples because they are both in the healthcare field, both clearly communities of practice when you see how they function, and yet at opposite extremes when it comes to external recognition of their being a community of practice. You will find similar situations in all sorts of domains—professional, scientific, artistic, civic.
Are there any differences between communities that get developed spontaneously and the ones that are developed in a formal context?
Fundamentally no, in the sense that however they start they need to reach the same point to function as a community of practice. At the end a community is a community, independently of the way it got started. All communities of practice need to find their “spirit”, which can be called their learning companionship. A community of practice is truly based on the sense of co-learning: the members are together because they experience each other as co-learners. If this feeling of companionship does not arise, you won’t have a community however it got started; and if it disappears the community will disappear too.
But of course there is a difference in the way the learning companionship develops in those two situations. A community of practice that gets started spontaneously has some level of learning companionship already at the beginning: it starts from there. By contrast, the directed communities may need some time to find and develop this companionship and it may never get there. Still, even the spontaneous communities need some time to figure out how to work together, how much time to dedicate, how to meet (online and/or offline), etc. It can be said that being part of a community is quite a big commitment. Perhaps the idea of having a community of practice comes spontaneously but then the reality of establishing and sustaining a community of practice takes more time and dedication.
Are the emerging technologies and the new social practices (e.g. Web 2.0 ) affecting communities of practice? Could you list and assess the aspects of the communities of practice that are positively and negatively influenced by the technology and new social uses?
Of course, emerging technologies are affecting communities of practice, and especially more recent developments in social software. It is interesting to note how aligned the peer-to-peer nature of web 2.0 technology is with the way learning takes place in a community of practice. This alignment is remarkable. It has given rise to a lot of interest in communities of practice because it has enabled all sorts of communities that would not have been possible in the past.
I am not sure that any given aspect is positive or negative in and of itself. For instance, the ability to belong to many groups at once by subscribing to an RSS feed is just exploding. This means that we can connect in many ways anywhere in the world and manage these connections very explicitly. But it also means that there are thousands of possibilities. This can be overwhelming. Our ability to handle multimembership is not infinite. So the generalization of multimembership we are witnessing creates both exciting possibilities and new problems.
Blogs are another example. The ability to keep a public journal online has created new possibilities for exchanges that give individuals a more personal voice; you can follow the evolution of their thinking; you can build on their ideas with comments, either on their blog or on yours. It is amazing. And communities can form among blogs talking to and about each other. This is definitely positive. But sometimes, you want to have a good, intense conversation on a focused topic with multiple perspectives all chiming in. If people are so enamoured with the personal orientation of their blog that they refrain from contributing to a conversation unless it is on their blog, then it is a loss. In this sense it could be viewed as a negative aspect.
I think it is always true when you have new possibilities that the effects are both positive and negative. To me, I would not want to spend too much time trying to think of developments in terms of positive and negative, but focus on what communities of practice can do now, and therefore what new practices have to develop to incorporate new technologies, like wikis to create shared artefacts, tags to organize their domain dynamically, networking tools to find each other or visualize the structure of membership.
According to your experience, how should platforms for communities of practice be designed?
This is a very difficult question to answer in the abstract. A community is a complex entity to design for and the platform should be rich enough to enable the community to do all it wants to do but not so complex to become a learning obstacle. The important thing is to start with the community, understand how it functions, and then provide the tools that take it forward.
Technology is interesting to communities of practice to the extent that it enables them to address challenges inherent in learning together. At its most basic, members of a community should be able to bring their practice into interaction. But this could be as simple as a listserv if they can make progress with an e-mail conversation and as complex as a system of conversation boards and blogs tied together. In addition, most communities like to create a repository of resources they can share. Here again, in many cases, a simple file-sharing mechanism will do. Then you can become much more sophisticated about this basic polarity between interacting and sharing resources. Should people be able to comment on resources, discuss them or modify them collectively? Should interactions be captured into documents that become shared resources, such as archives, notes and summaries? Another polarity to consider is whether interactions and resource sharing should happen synchronously or asynchronously. Should the community be able to hold meetings at a distance? If so, should a phone conference be preceded by online conversation and become an MP3 file afterwards? Another consideration is the group/individual polarity. Who can belong? How to manage the boundary? Do people need to learn a technology specifically for this community or can they join by using their own favourite software?
I think that we are seeing a trend that communities cannot be limited to a platform. Members may want to be opportunistic and use the tools that are available for their purpose. So the issue of integration then becomes important. With web 2.0, however, integration does not necessarily mean integration into one solid platform, but integration across tools that can work together. This makes the whole question of platform much more dynamic, just as a community is a dynamic process of learning together.
Could you explain to us your concept of "ecology of leadership"?
As a community of practice evolves and is being developed, how do the roles of its members vary and change?What I mean by ecology of leadership is that in a community of practice, leadership takes a lot of different forms and these forms of leadership combine to create a dynamic system. I am trying to get away from the image of a leader and followers. There are all sorts of ways of showing leadership in a community. You can convene the community by making it a legitimate place of learning for a certain domain, you can help organize community activities, you can form a subgroup around a certain topic, you can be a thought leader providing expertise or vision, you can question established wisdom, you can drive an inquiry by asking for help with a challenge you have, you can connect the community with other communities you also belong to, you can weave the social fabric by connecting people, you can organize or edit documents that the community is collecting, you can steward a productive use of technology. The list goes on and on.
And as in an ecological system, these roles dynamically evolve in relation to each other. Some are assigned but often people just take them on because of a topic they are interested in or an aspect of the community they care about. And sometimes, people will just invent a role for themselves.
It is often the case that in the early stages of a community, a few people are taking the lead. But over time, it is to be expected and desired that a broader group of members will take on various roles. Distributed leadership in a dynamic process that combines individual initiative with collective self-management is a characteristic of a mature and lively community of practice.
Have you been part of a community of practice during the last six months? Which has been your role? Any remarkable personal experience you would like to share?
Yes, I belong to several communities of practice, some of them centrally and some peripherally. In one, you could say that I am viewed as a thought leader. This is a bit of a strange role to be in because the other members are amazing practitioners of community development. The other day someone suggested that I should be more active in one area of the website because people expected this. But after some conversation we all agreed that the community was full of people who could contribute very good stuff. And we kind of laughed at our own need to recognize the value of the community, not just so-called experts. So you realize that a community is a complex social system where different people bring different gifts. And it is really important for a community to see this, to see its potential, and to appreciate the diversity of perspectives necessary to create a productive learning process.
There is so much we need to understand about how learning can take place and be supported. Innovations in lifelong learning are one of the great challenges of our time, both because things are moving so fast that each of us has to be learning all the time, and also because we are facing great challenges in the world today, and I believe that only by learning how to learn fast together will we be able to face these challenges.