Wednesday, 3 December 2008

thanks Nancy (Communities of Practice)

A big thank you again to Nancy White for the series of blogs on Communities of Practice (CoP). The series has been going since early August, and give a marvellous overview into best practice on CoPs. Nancy’s fab website is

As I said back in August, for me CoPs are about the people and communities. They are not about technology or platforms. Too many people think CoPs can be a panacea to all the worlds problems, but in many circumstances a CoP is not required (and something else is better). When CoPs are the right route, you can’t just click a switch and believe you have done your part.

Communities of Practice take love and attention to get right!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Stewarding Technology for your Community of Practice (with Nancy White)

Elearning is growing and evolving hand in glove with a constellation of technologies that have their roots in a number of places. One is in collaboration software. If we look back to the origins of the internet (ARPANET) through to today's big emphasis on "Web 2.0" tools, there is a constant thread of the dynamic interplay between technology and the groups using it. The early software was written because scientists needed better ways to collaborate. Usenet evolved as more and more people started using it, creating both technological and social demands on the system. Personal publishing - while easier today with blogs and wikis - has been around since the early nineties, giving voice to people in new ways that ranged wider than their geographic communities, creating learning connections that span the globe. Community influences technology and technology influences community. This is true in the application of technology for learning.

The second root to the technology supporting elearning is the traditional structures of teaching, particularly of the western world, with the notion of "course" and "classroom" guided by the hierarchy of the "school" and the "teacher." As people developed technologies to support learning, they often recreated these same structures in their software.

Today the world of community technology and learning technology offer us something beyond the classroom metaphor. They offer us affordances for group,community and network learning. There is an interplay between the technology and those who use it, driving the evolution of the tools forward every day. Further more, there are so many different tools and technologies that our heads start to spin like that scene from the Exorcist!

We can't cover all of this in one blog post, but let's get a few of the issues out on the table. This is a very high level "skim." This is a complex area. So take my words with a grain of salt! :-)

1. We are not simply deploying technology. We are designing for social learning and interaction.
First, from a CoP perspective, the platform is NOT the community. It is the people. Second, it is easy to reduce technology selection to a set of features and pick the platform that seems to have all the features we need. But what we really need to understand is how these tools can support social learning and interaction. This is both a technological and social design issue. So before going into a technology selection and deployment path, be clear on your goals. This is not a content warehouse, nor simply a tracking system to account for student activity.

You are designing a "place" where people will learn together. Do you go to where they are already online (sites like Facebook and Meebo) and connect those sites with your material, or create a space you invite them into? Does everything have to happen in one place (via something like a portal) or can it be spread about the net a bit?

What attracts people to a place? What makes it easy and enjoyable - yes ENJOYABLE! You are designing a place where people need to "show up." Is the place easy to navigate. Are the tools organised in a way that reflects the content, learner and course needs?

How does the technology support the type of group? If you are trying to foster a CoP, there needs to be attention to both community, domain and practice. If however, you are supporting a course a learner works through by themselves, you don't need to support sociality between learners.

How is the learner's identity expressed? What control do they have over their experience? How are you designing for multiple learning modalities?

Answering these and other social design questions is the starting place for technology exploration, not things you think of after the software is installed.

2. How do we select in the jungle of technology options?
How often have you heard the debate. "Oh, you should only use a blog for that!" Or "wiki, use a wiki!" People have strong opinions about what a tool is useful for. Let me share a hint. Don't start there. Start with what sort of activity you want to support, then evaluate the context. THEN start thinking about software. Not an instant before. For example, here are some learning activities and some potential tools to support them.

Learning Activity 1) Conversations between learners. This supports discovery, meaning making, group work and building relationships. Tool = could be discussion boards, email lists, wikis (not for all groups, but some make it work), synchronous chat rooms

Learning Activity 2) Learner relflections or assignment portfolio. Tool = blogs, file sharing tools, e-portfolio's

Learning Activity 3) Co -writing. Tool = wiki, google docs

Learning Activity 4) Feedback, testing closure on a discussion, decision making. Tool= polling tools

Learning Activity 5) Sharing of course materials (written, audio, images, video). See
Will the material be provided, or are you supporting learner contributed content? If the latter, they have to be able to contribute, not controlled from a central webmaster point. Tool = File sharing, Content management system, Podcast and vodcast tools, Photo sharing tools

Learning Activity 6) Finding other learners with something in common. Tool = Profiles, Personal pagesS, ocial networking tools

Learning Activity 7) Finding content. Tools = search engine, tagging tool

Once you have identified the activities you want to support, you can either look for a platform that brings the required tools together (like an Elearning platform, content management system or a hosted site like Ning Part of the decision making here also includes your need to host a system or have it hosted, privacy and security issues and cost/or free with ads. This is where working with your IT team is really critical.

You don't have to have one single platform. You can assemble bits and pieces into a unique configuration. This is trickier and does not scale out, nor does it work well for groups who won't tolerate multiple accounts and sign ins, but it can be very rewarding for groups who want to be flexible and experiment with tools during their course work. For examples of this, see the work of Leigh Blackall with Wiki Educator ( and Stephen Downes/George Siemens for their recent Connectivism Course ( is easy to get really wrapped up in technology selection. The three things to remember are: keep it simple, keep it flexible because things WILL change, and finally, remember it is the people, their interaction and the course content that matters. The platform is the means to the end, not the end!

3. There is a new job out there - Stewarding technology for the learning community

In our "roles" blog post ( we talked about the role of Community Technology Steward. This is, according to the work I (Nancy) have been doing with John Smith and Etienne Wenger, the person who knows enough about the community and enough about the technology to help pick, configure, and support useful practices with that technology. ( In large organisation, there may be an IT department that makes the big decisions and supports the back of a set of technologies, but there is always that place where "the rubber meets the road" and someone has to make easy the path of using technology. Let's look briefly at each of the parts of this role in the context of a learning community. We'll make the assumption that in this case, the steward isn't making the technology selection decisions, but that is often part of the role.

  • Provide input into the selection of technology. While the IT people are going to be the go-to people for issues such as security, reliability and scalability, there is that ticklish piece of USABILITY. It is important to have input from people who know the social side of using software for community oriented learning. This means knowing what the community needs (see picking above) and a sense of what the community can do technologically. Knowing how many tech barriers they will tolerate. As a community technology steward, you want to test any proposed software and map the learning activities you need to support to the tools and features provided. This means that just because an elearning platform has a blog, doesn't mean it is a useful blog. So test, test and push for ease of use.

  • Configure technology. With so many software packages like Moodle and hosted platforms like Ning, you are often given a ton of options. Start simple and activate JUST the features you need to support the learning activities you identified. Don't get carried away. And remember, you are designing for a group, not just yourself. We have a tendency to design for our own preferences. Get some potential learners involved at this stage testing and giving feedback. Listen to and respond to the feedback.

  • Support useful practices using the technology. Once your technology is selected and configured, think about onramps for learners. Create some simple initial learning activities that have meaning to the domain AND give learners a chance to use the technology. Debrief the initial activities and identify any barriers or changes that you need to make. As learners discover useful practices, share them across the community. People are creative and inventive and figure out things the software designers never even thought of. Use that as part of the learning.

4. Security, Open and Closed

Finally, there are many issues around what levels of privacy and security are required (by law), by culture and organisational convention. Traditionally we have designed closed learning systems, but there are experiments to open up learning, creating online courses that anyone can join, but only those who enroll and pay get specific support. (Again, see the Connectivism course If we advise clearly that a course is open, is that acceptable to institutions and students? When does openness contribute to learning? I suspect it is more often than we might initially imagine. But there are times when closed and private are needed, especially for students who are concerned about their lack of preparation or skills, or have special needs that might not be well understood in an open situation. This suggests that we are transparent about what is open, what is closed, why and under what conditions. But it is useful not to assume closed and private all the time. We learn in and with the world.

I have just touched VERY lightly on these issues and there are many more associated with technology in online learning and with communities of practice. So consider this just an appetizer. But we now know that not only is technology important, but HOW we select, configure and use it, and within what context, that creates the sum experience. Not just the software.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Community Heartbeats - when synchronous interactions matter (Communities of Practice series)

Online community learning is great in that it provides us the opportunity to learn anytime, anywhere we have connectivity. But that is a pretty rosy view when we consider the competition a course has against everything else going on in our lives. Often "oh, I can do this anytime so I'll do it later" leaves a course to be done in the wee hours of the night or on weekends when we really might like or need to be doing something else. A learner who stays away too long may begin to feel they have fallen too far behind, or isolated from their community. That's where synchronous events can help. They can keep the heartbeat of a learning community going strong. For some, they create a sense of community, relationship and "realness" -- voices and not just words on a screen.

What are synchronous events?

Synchronous online events are when some or all of the learners are online at the same time and interacting using tools such as Voice over IP (VoIP), telephone bridge lines, chat rooms, web meetings and instant messengers. They can be discussion based, or can be a presentation by a guest or tutor with time for questions and answers. They can be large group or small group breakouts from the larger community. Some examples include:
  • Weekly online tutor "office hours." Learners can log on and ask questions, get support and just check in. These could be mandatory or voluntary. I find that if you do one first that is "all hands" people can get a sense of the value of the office hours, then are more likely to participate in the future.

  • Presentations and guest speakers & lecturers. First of all, if you aren't planning any interaction with the learners around lectures or presentations, don't make them synchronous. Provide them as web content. But if you can bring in a special guest, that is worth a fixed meeting time and it makes it -- well - SPECIAL. But this is not about pushing powerpoints. A good online presentation will mix presentation with interative activities - a good mix is 7 minutes of content, 7-10 of interaction. An hour is good, and 90 minutes should be the maximum. Include audio, text and visual elements. Some of us are not so good at just listening!

  • Small group meetings. Is there small group work? Encourage learners to set a time to meet each week. This builds full participation and helps reduce procrastination. They can meet in a web meeting room or even just on an instant messenger or Skype.
How often are they useful?

How often are they useful?
For new learners, it is helpful to have regular synchronous events until they have figured out their learning and participation rhythms. Virtual team expert Martha Maznevski likens it to the heartbeat of a runner. New runners' hearts are still weak so they beat fast early on in their runs. But trained runners hearts beat slower. So experienced learning communities may not need to meet as often, unless meetings are their preferred mode of interaction.

How do we bridge between the synchronous and the asynchronous?

How do we bridge between the synchronous and the asynchronous?

Synchronous meetings don't work for everyone due to schedules, internet access and personal learning preferences. So we need to have strategies that bridge between the synchronous and asynchronous.

  • Post recordings, notes and artifacts of synchronous meetings. Make sure your learners know where they are and how to access them.

  • Follow up on synchronous action items in the asynchronous interaction spaces. Notes taken "live" in a web meeting can be shared right afterwards, with action items highlighted. If additional conversation is needed, continue in a discussion thread, blog or wiki area.

  • Prepare for upcoming synchronous meetings by involving the group in planning, again using the asynchronous tools you have at hand. You can even use scheduling tools like to pick a meeting time!

Finally, check in with the group as to how the "heartbeat" is going. Ask for feedback and use that to improve the meetings and the timing of the meetings. Each group is different and we can use iterative planning to make the most of that diversity, rather than stifle it with set plans.

Synchronous telephone conference tips
Designing and Facilitating meetings:

Image Credits on Flickr/Creative Commons:

This is part of the Community of Practice series of blogs with Nancy White

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Content and Community (CoPs with Nancy White)

We have talked throughout this series on communities of practice about "content." Well, what the heck is content, why is it important and how do we make the most of it - especially when there is a LOT of it. First the what and why, then one idea about how to work with volume.

What do we mean by "content?
By content, we can mean many things. Books, papers, self-paced learning modules, resources, learner discussions, reflective logs/blogs, images, audio, video. All the "stuff" that carries both the subject matter information and the artifacts of our interactions to make meaning of those subjects. Today we can capture both the resources and the interaction artifacts. We can draw from a closed, defined set of resources, or tap into the larger set of resources on the world wide web. The content may be dynamic, changing and evolving so one set of static resources that works for todays course is outdated in six months. So content is never fully "done." It is alive in our learning communities.

Why is content important?
From a communities of practice perspective, it is important for two reasons. Content embodies or captures what we know about the domain (see

Second, the creation of content during the learning process is a key part of that very process. In CoP terms, this is "reification." Here is a bit from the upcoming book by Etienne Wenger, John Smith and I that talks about reification.

"Members of a community of practice need to interact with each other as well as produce and share artifacts such as documents, tools, and links to resources. Sharing artifacts without interacting can inhibit the ability to negotiate the meaning of what is being shared. Interacting without producing artifacts can limit the extent and impact of learning. Indeed, the theory of communities of practice views learning together as involving the interplay of two fundamental processes of meaning making: Members engage directly in activities, interactions, conversations, reflections, and other forms of personal participation in the learning of the community; members produce physical and conceptual artifacts—words, tools, concepts, methods, stories, documents, and other forms of reification—that reflect their shared experience and around which they organize their participation. (Literally, reification means “making into an object.”) Meaningful learning in a community requires both processes to be present. Sometimes one may dominate the other. They may not always be complementary to each other. The challenge of this polarity is how successfully communities cycle between the two."

So not only do we have the content provide us a base resource or curriculum of the course, we have the content created by the members as part of their learning. As Etienne likes to tell us, the community becomes the curriculum. This is why content is important!

Members Creating Content
Over time, learners create content related to courses and their learning communities that may have value beyond the "course." Learners may wish to track and organize their own content. Portfolios, particularly ones that are not bound up in a proprietary platform, allow this portability. There is also the value of the content to other learners and communities of practice. Contribution of articles, blog posts, links to external resources that learners or tutors have tagged can all enrich the content of what used to be viewed simply as a course, and is now an ongoing potential learning hub.

Bringing in New Content
Learning content is not a static element, particularly for topics that are deeply embedded in our rapidly change society. So a childcare course may need to have a "line of sight" to changing policy, or local trends. We need a means of identifying emerging and related content and weaving it back into the more traditional "course" is a newer role. This curation of content can be an organisationally drive or user generated aspect. Probably both. This is where technology and human beings combine to make a strong contribution. While we have human bees in platform, particularly in the community context mentioned "across courses" in the last blog post (see, we can use technology to scale human curation. Consider things like aggregated content pulled in by persistent searches and tags, Amazon style interests. The ability to use these tools to find and aggregate content can also be used to link people to that content. This could be organised by the instructors and/or the learners. In fact, it has been my experience that learners who find their own content tend to be more deeply engaged with it. Plus learning how to find and critique external content is a core skill in today's world. So rather than be afraid of what "junk" students will find, equip them to be critical assessors of content and find the gold among the dross.

In the new Ufi learndirect Childcare portal pilot, learners can create "their learning plan" and can draw on learndirect content and bookmark and rate content. Through technology (Amazon style), there is also "suggested content" based on their interests/previous use.

Organising and manage their own content
The mechanics of finding, labeling and sorting content have direct impact on the later findability and usability of that content. Does your learning and community software enable easy tagging of content so learners can find it on their own terms later? Do you organise external content so it can be aggregated into course domains? Let's look at tagging as a specific example. Tagging is when a person associates some key words of their own choosing to a piece of digital content. This can be done outside of a learning platform using a social bookmarking tool like, or (the latter is specifically designed for research and education contexts). These allow a person to embed a bookmarking tool in their internet browser, and then when they want to tag something, they click a button in the browser and a pop up screen appears, and the person fills in the fields. If individual learners are tagging on their own, you can pull in their tags into your learning platform using the RSS feeds provided by most of these tagging services. This way the learner maintains control and ownership of their bookmarking, but the learning community benefits from the activity. This build longer term learning and finding capacity, rather than locking the content (and the learner's access to it) inside the learning platform of your organization.

Tags have another great application. They can be visualized as a "tag cloud" where each tag word shows up in a size related to the number of times it shows up in a list of tags. This gives a quick visual image of what is getting most attention from an individual in their tag cloud or, for tags associated across a group of learners, of the group itself. This visual "hook" can engage those who would otherwise skip reading a text listing of tags, engaging a different learning style. It has been very interesting to me to see how a tag cloud invites in browsing of content from people who would otherwise glaze over at a list of files or links. (By the way, if you like playing with any kind of word clouds, you may enjoy!). Ufi learndirect's new Childcare portal pilot utilises tag clouds as a vital element.

Now you might start getting worried about people tagging things "correctly." Don't worry. Tags represent the participants view. Yes there will be typos. Look for tools that allow you to fix that, but don't fixate on the practice. You WANT people to tag, which is better than no tags. You may also want to introduce some key tags and use those as navigation points across key course content. You will see that others may actually follow your tagging conventions, so set some good examples at the start.

A final word on content
Yes, content is important. But if people don't use it, interact with it and making meaning of it so they can apply it, it is not worth the electrons. When you design for content, make sure it is attached to people and their processes. Then you get the magic happening!


Monday, 6 October 2008

Roles and scalability (Communities of Practice series with Nancy White)

In the last blog we talked about some of the roles that support successful learning communities and CoPs (communities of Practice). But when we think of these roles in the context of organizations like Learndirect, whose strength is providing services at a massive scale, some natural tensions are going to emerge. We might say "yeah, all these roles are nice, but there is no way to provide them a scale."

How can we creatively thinking about scalability of roles? What might be the interaction between paid, formalized roles provided by Learndirect and the cultivation of roles within a learning cohort or an ongoing community? How might technology help us? Let's look at some options.

  • Within courses/intense support - assessment, content, and tutoring. Tutors with both content and pedagogical experience help students assess learning needs and pull together relevant resources (at Ufi learndirect, the pedagogy and much of the tutor support is in-built within the e-learning couse). They are a "first line" of support with explicit boundaries on what they can do. This may be more or less needed depending on the course. Some content lends itself to being a solo student experience with little support. Others are more complex and need more support. Technology may assist to direct relevant content to the right learners through diagnostic paths (a la Amazon's recommendation system) on the assessment side.

  • Across "course" offerings/building community support - community cultivation, connecting learners. While there might not be able to be an intense level of support at an individual cohort level, can there be learning communities that draw from multiple cohorts for the same course? For example, I may be taking a self paced module on childcare for infants. Within that course, there is no "community" per se, but I can log into the "Infant Childcare" community and ask questions of peers and experts, get access to more content and come back when I have questions about what I've learned in application. This might be seen as a set of domain specific portals. This offers the ability for both tutor and peer support on a more scalable level than at the course level (another way could be to take a generic course like numeracy or employability and build a niche community around say financial management that is a key issue for some of the learners. The same principle could work for leadership and management and many other more generi courses). All this can augment the automated diagnostics with a community of people who might have more diverse or contextual recommendations. Developing good critical thinking to evaluate and assess recommendations - automated or human, may be something important to foster within the community(ies.)

  • Learning support from the "wider world" - tapping into networks, professional associations and local organisations. An important learning bridge is that place between the formality of a "course" and the ongoing application of learning in the world. This ongoing learning is primarily informal. We can link students to external supports for their ongoing learning. It may be professional associations, guilds, communities of practice or local organizations. Linking learners to these ongoing support not only bridges to application, but it may also attract people from the community who wish to participate in domain communities sponsored by the learning institution, offering value in both directions.

The bottom line is that support roles are neither fixed, nor limited to paid, internal resources. If we look at the value chain across this ecosystem, each layer, each player has something to offer and something to gain through cooperating.



Friday, 26 September 2008

Community Leadership in Learning - bees, mentors, coaches, experts and friends (Communities of Practice series)

When we dream of community learning, we often have this idyllic fantasy that they just work. Automagically things get organized. Participation happens. But when we open our eyes and think of the wasteland of fossilized or never-really-happened learning communities, of the dead web discussion forums, reality hits. While it may take a village or wider family to raise a child, it takes roles to raise a community. And unless you have endless time or deep pockets to pay someone (or some ONES) these roles have to be distributed across the community. Lets take a look at some possible roles in learning communities or communities of practice. These are examples, and they are in my language. You may very well have different labels and different roles in your community. The point is to be able to describe them. Then a community can begin to step in, negotiate, and fill the roles.

More than tutors and learners

At the moment many people think there is just the educational practitioner (expert; one role); and the learner. Teacher, student. Perhaps there is also the subject matter expert who comes in to create a course or determine the content pieces, and an instructional designer who organizes that content based on pedagogical principles and within the constraints of the technologies in use.

In reality, there are more roles. People often play more than one role or switch between roles. Some of these roles may be played by one person or many. Sometimes they are formalized (as in instructor) and sometimes they are entirely informal and ad hoc. It all depends on the context. Here are some examples. Notice the overlap!

  • Subject matter expert - in CoP lingo, these are the people who have a sharp focus on the domain (see In self paced elearning, the experts made their appearance during the creation of the course, then are essentially gone. A tutor (see next description) may take on this role. In many learning communities, the members themselves are to some extent or another, also experts. This means as a value we explicitly recognize, value and use the knowlege of the learners. This can lead to peer mentoring or peer tutoring. As humans too, we generally appreciate being recognized. So this build social capital in a learning group.

  • Technology steward - when we are learning together online, not everyone is as geeky as they might wish to be. The technology steward is a person who knows enough about the needs of the community and enough about the technology to help everyone use it well in learning together. This might be the person who naturally likes to experiment with web tools, or who is a good "explainer." Tech stewards are often unaware they have this talent, so it is important to notice them and asking them to help. In an organizational setting, we rarely have enough "tech support" so these stewards within the learning communities can be a huge help.

  • Community cultivator - These are the relationship people. In CoP lingo, they pay attention to community (see They welcome people into a learning group. They notice who might be interested in meeting others and makes the introductions. They notice when someone is missing. In an online environment where we lack many of our accustomed social signals (body language) this role is important. Look for the naturals - they love taking on this role. Technology can assist this role through the use of course member directories, social networking tools and even instant messengers.

  • Content scanners and filterers - we talk about information overload. These people see it as a candy store. They scan, notice and often love to share what they have found. Set up tools and places for these folks to bring in external resources into your course. We'll talk more about the HOW of doing this in a subsequent blog post.

  • Content creators - History has shown that between 1% and 10% of participants in online groups produce 90- 99% of the content. In a course situation, we often want to increase this as a way to know if people are participating. (See Lurkers below). In reality, if everyone produced, we'd not be able to consume it. We'd choke. However, look for those who create value. Encourage them, like the content scanners, to lead conversations, share their critical thinking skills and role model active participation. Often just recognizing their skills encourages them.

  • Lurkers - As CoP theory notes, some of us learn from the side, not in the center creating content, or leading conversations. This "legitimate peripheral participation" is often labeled "lurking" in online communities. Lurking means they are reading, but we just don't know it. So we need to encourage people to give us clues if they are happily lurking, or find out if they are disconnected and lost. This takes us back to the tutors and peer tutors.

  • Bridgers out to the world - Most learning within a course is the first step. Carrying that learning out into the world and applying it is the gold standard of success. It is my personal belief that nearly every course that has practical application as its goal should have an explicit activity that bridges out to the world. That may mean pointing out open learning communities interested in the same topic or domain, bringing in external speakers to add a touch of the "real world" or keeping learners connected after a course to support that learning in application. Members of the community can help create those links.

Not all of these roles have to be institutionalised. If you are providing elearning services, think about which ones are most important in your context. Prioritise the ones you can fill, then design your learning communities to support members taking on the other roles. This includes making space to talk about them, and recognising -- even rewarding -- people who take them on. Roles are a way for people to build their social capital. They another layer of identity for members in their communities. They cultivate a sense of ownership. The can raise the visibility and reputation of those who take them on successfully. So while roles most often equate with work, they also have intrinsic value to both the individual and the community.

Etienne Wenger: Scroll down to the section on leadership
Bronwyn Stuckey and John Smith, Sustaining Communities of practice

Image Credits on Flickr/Creative Commons
view photos Uploaded on September 20, 2008
by Jose Kevo

CoP Blogs

This is a series of blogs on Communities of Practice with Nancy White.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Is my community a community of practice? How would I know? Does it matter? (CoP series with Nancy White)

In our first post on Communities of Practice (CoPs) we disabused ourselves of the confusion between a community and the platform that allows it to interact together online. In this post, let's wrestle with what a CoP isn't, and if that really matters anyway. This may also give us insight as to what we are trying to do and perhaps point to a different strategic option when trying to support and extend learning. After all, as much as I think CoPs are amazing, they are not the only thing we have at hand.

  • Is a "class" or "cohort of learners" a community? It might be. If the group continues to learn after the course is over, the course then becomes the catalyst for the beginnings of the community. That said, we can take a "community perspective" when we design a course which would place an emphasis on interaction and making meaning of the material between students. An example might be to have the learners apply their learnings "out in the world" then come back and report on what they learned, questions they had and, if relevant, how application changed their understanding of the material. By doing this WITH others, they get feedback and other perspectives. Often Ufi learndirect learners are working individually through content. So that would suggest the community may be something offered alongside the course. The content also matters - some things lend themselves more to a community model than others. Context matters!

  • Is a group of people who all took a specific elearning offering - at any time, alone or together, a CoP? They could be! When we think about the value of learning, and measuring learning that stays with us, we often think about learning applied in use. So if I use that math in my job and do my job better, or I become a better manager because I have a basic grasp of change management. Application, as noted above, always depends on context, so providing space for cohorts or anyone who has taken a specific course to come back and clarify, ask and answer questions can be a very productive learning environment.

  • Is a team a CoP? Not usually. Teams are focused on an outcome of a task. CoPs are focused on the learning about how to do that task. That said, many teams have a CoP component to their work as a way to continue learning, improving and innovating. Again, if we take a community perspective on our team work, we would include processes and time for learning while doing!

  • Is a CoP the same thing as a (social) network? There is often some overlap. A network is the collection of connections and relationships between people. Right now, "social networking sites" such as Facebook and Meebo are all the rage. They can be useful tools for communities of practice, but they aren't the same thing. The line between a community and a network is fuzzy in terms of membership, but the difference between a community of practice and a network is that the CoP is interested not just in the connections or relationships, but in the domain and practice. We'll talk more about the important dynamic between communities and networks in a subsequent post.

  • Is a CoP the group of people who generate content on a website? That is one thing CoPs can do. Some communities have a strong orientation towards creating content that reflects their learning and their domain. For example, writing down/recording/drawing what we know helps us solidify and share the learning. But few communities just create content. The interaction in learning and creating is as important as the artifacts they create. So setting up a site for user generated content can support a CoP, but it is not THE CoP itself.

  • Is a portal a CoP? No. A portal is a website that brings together content and often tools for people to interact. So it has the domain of a CoP. But remember, a community is the people, not the tool. So if you have created a portal, you need to think about how to nurture the interaction between the people. That suggests facilitation, mentoring and other actions that stimulate interaction. The old "build it and they will come" rarely comes true. Portals, however, can be fantastic repositories for content created by a community (or many communities).

In the UFI context, it might be useful to share a few examples and test our understanding of them as CoPs... or not!

Message boards don't automatically become CoPs
Between 2000-2007 message boards and chat rooms were provided within Ufi's Learner Management system (called the LSE). These tools can support the conversational aspects of communities. But there has to be a spark. Here is the story Darren shared with me.

"In the initial implementation, there were no community facilitators or educational practitioner driving use whether on a local basis within centres (in Ufi lerndirect speak called the "tutor") or a national basis. No-one had been mentored or trained to be a "bee," mentor, coach or friend (more of this in a later blog). There was no guidance on what the message board/chat room was for. Surprise, surprise no-one was using it! In 2007 UFI removed this functionality."

This is an example of having some missing "legs" for community. Yes, there was the "domain" of the course. But there was no defined community because learners were working solo with no specific path for building relationships and no facilitation for both the socialization and interactive learning conversations. So practice was missing as well. So the question remains, can web based conversational community strategies mix with Learndirect's elearning "at any pace, any time, any place." Can learning cohorts be built?

Some domains lend themselves to CoPs
One of the amazing things I've seen in CoPs is how well some types of professions are culturally so well suited to a community of practice way of being. Public health nurses in the United States (not sure about the UK!) have a practice that is all about sharing learning with each other and with their clients. Teachers who are isolated in their classrooms often have a hunger to interact and learn from other teachers. One of Ufi learndirect's audiences, childcare providers, is another one of those "natural" domains. In 2008 Ufi learndirect is starting a CoP pilot around Childcare.
Darren shared this information with me, which reinforces this idea that some domains are ripe for using a community approach.

"In Childcare a portal has been developed (this will go live in autumn 2008). It is for childcare professionals whether new to the professional or experienced. It is both a portal of resources (just in time training and information) to the more formal vocational qualifications (called NVQs in the UK). We hope to develop an active CoP in childcare as research has shown that childcare professionals do like to share with colleagues and do like to work together. It is a sector based approach so there is a common tie there (quite a bit of learndirect content is generic across sectors where it is felt harder to develop a community). If the Childcare Pilot is successful, Ufi will look to develop CoPs further".

These two examples help us see that we have to look at conditions that enable CoPs.

So now that we've looked at these different forms, what do you think? In your context, is a CoP what you need, or something else? Share your story in the comments!

Want some more examples of communities of practice in an elearning context? Here are a few:

* Bronwyn Stuckey's site on CoPs in Education, Community Capers - new stories of education CoPs each month! Writing Matters
* Webheads in Action. An amazing community of ESL/EFL teachers who can share both how their own community has enhanced their teaching, but how their use of communities has worked with their learners
* TappedIn a community of teachers that makes use of virtual worlds
* Teachers using blogs share their students' work with other teachers and students.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Practice makes perfect (Communities of Practice series with Nancy White)

The is the third post exploring more about Community, Domain and Practice mentioned in the first post of this series on communities of practice (CoPs). This is the "where the rubber meets the road" leg of the stool, Practice. CoPs are not about learning things in the abstract. They are about learning and putting that learning to practice, and learning from that practice in an ongoing cycle of learn/do/learn. This is why businesses and organizations have been so interested in CoPs -- they see them as a way to improve practices in the context of work. While a "to do list" gets you to "done," it does not surface or share the learning of that task for the next time around. But by linking practice to learning, improvement and innovation is more likely. Here is Etienne Wenger's description of Practice:

The practice: from
A community of practice is not merely a community of interest--people who like certain kinds of movies, for instance. Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems—in short a shared practice. This takes time and sustained interaction. A good conversation with a stranger on an airplane may give you all sorts of interesting insights, but it does not in itself make for a community of practice. The development of a shared practice may be more or less self-conscious. The "windshield wipers" engineers at an auto manufacturer make a concerted effort to collect and document the tricks and lessons they have learned into a knowledge base. By contrast, nurses who meet regularly for lunch in a hospital cafeteria may not realize that their lunch discussions are one of their main sources of knowledge about how to care for patients. Still, in the course of all these conversations, they have developed a set of stories and cases that have become a shared repertoire for their practice.

Implications of practice
Practice in communities of practice that are not in the same place is invisible unless we find ways to talk/show it to our fellow members. So in thinking about practice in CoPs related to eLearning, what do we need to consider?
We each can't "know it all" about our domain, but by tapping into our community members, we as a whole know and learn a whole lot. The trick is to start to make that knowledge and learning available and encourage the practice of sharing our practice! Here are a few possibilities:

  • Telling stories of our practice - is there both a compelling invitation and a place to tell stories of applying learning out in the world? Oddly, people often think their story is not "important enough" to share, so it is not enough to put up a forum and say "share stories." Role modeling, acknowledging and encouraging -- all forms of facilitation, are critical to nurturing storytelling.
  • Sharing "stuff" - tools, resources, links to other people. Is it easy to post resources to a community website, or to share a "tag" that identfies useful materials on the internet? See for a definition of tagging.

  • Asking and answering questions - again, both the invitation and the process for this matters. Sometimes it is the "senior" or "expert" members we need to hear from, but it is important to make space and value contributions for all members. Newbies know a lot as well, and bring in fresh perspectives into our communities.
  • Mentoring - is there a mechanism to pair or create small groups of people to mentor and closely follow each others' practice? This can be REALLY important in large communities where it may be harder for this closer and more intimate form of learning to occur. It also builds the community side of the "three legged stool!"
  • Events - people lead busy lives, so time-limited events (online or offline) can focus attention on the community's practice and learning.
  • Ongoing conversations - little streams of conversation that connect and keep the community heartbeat going in slower times. This may be the conversations of a small subset.

The exciting thing about Practice in CoP is there are so many things we can do. That is also the problem. So focus on a few things and then grow from there. Don't overwhelm at first and let the community lead with the practice activities that mean most to them.

If you are a member of or are a CoP leader, share a story about successful practice activities in your community in the comments section.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Community - because without people, you just have a pile of content. Or worse... nothing!

This is the third post surfacing a bit more about Community, Domain and Practice mentioned in the series on communities of practice (CoPs). This time we'll "go social" and talk about the community aspect. From the "no duh" perspective, there is no community without people. Here is Wenger's explanation of Community in the context of CoPs.

The community: from
In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other. A website in itself is not a community of practice. Having the same job or the same title does not make for a community of practice unless members interact and learn together. The claims processors in a large insurance company or students in American high schools may have much in common, yet unless they interact and learn together, they do not form a community of practice. But members of a community of practice do not necessarily work together on a daily basis. The Impressionists, for instance, used to meet in cafes and studios to discuss the style of painting they were inventing together. These interactions were essential to making them a community of practice even though they often painted alone.

Right off there are the practical implications of Community in the context of elearning.

  • You have to find the people and, if they aren't already connected or convened, make that happen. Is there an existing community you can tap into, or do you have to actually set one up? Are you ready for that?
  • Members have to have some sort of relationship with each other - so there needs to be conditions for not just information exchange, but social interaction. How does that fit with your mission and role?
  • Social interaction is neither linear, nor is it always neat and within the confines of structured things like "courses." Are you ready for a little unorder?
  • Relationships develop over time. Courses end? What are the boundaries you need to set and what can be open ended? How will that be supported?

These questions might give you pause - and for good reason, but lets also look at the benefits of community. From a learning theory perspective, a lot of learning is social, meaning it happens between us, not always as a solo activity. In fact some of us seem to need social learning more than others. When Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave coined the term communities of practice, it was part of their work on understanding learning and the importance of social learning. Again, from Wenger:

Social scientists have used versions of the concept of community of practice for a variety of analytical purposes, but the origin and primary use of the concept has been in learning theory. Anthropologist Jean Lave and I coined the term while studying apprenticeship as a learning model. People usually think of apprenticeship as a relationship between a student and a master, but studies of apprenticeship reveal a more complex set of social relationships through which learning takes place mostly with journeymen and more advanced apprentices. The term community of practice was coined to refer to the community that acts as a living curriculum for the apprentice. Once the concept was articulated, we started to see these communities everywhere, even when no formal apprenticeship system existed. And of course, learning in a community of practice is not limited to novices. The practice of a community is dynamic and involves learning on the part of everyone. from

Community as curriculum -- for me, that is a pretty juicy concept. So let's just end this blog post at the edge of the cliff. What does that mean to you? How might you imagine your learners as cummunity and thus as a way to extend and deepen your curriculum?

This is a series of blogs with Nancy White

Monday, 18 August 2008

What the heck is a Domain and why should I care? (CoP with Nancy White)

In the first in our series on communities of practice, (CoPs) I briefly mentioned Community, Domain and Practice ( In this blog post I want to dive a little deeper into Domain. Because Etienne Wenger does such a great job of defining domain (and he really helped me understand it) I'll start with his definition, and use his definitions later for Community and Practice as well:

The domain: from

A community of practice is not merely a club of friends or a network of connections between people. It has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest. Membership therefore implies a commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people. (You could belong to the same network as someone and never know it.) The domain is not necessarily something recognized as "expertise" outside the community. A youth gang may have developed all sorts of ways of dealing with their domain: surviving on the street and maintaining some kind of identity they can live with. They value their collective competence and learn from each other, even though few people outside the group may value or even recognize their expertise.

So Domain is what we care about together. It is what is important enough for us to make time to participate, to learn these crazy online tools if that's how our community connects, and makes us prioritize it over the many other things we have in our busy lives. So it has to matter! So if a learner is taking a course because they "have to", we need to think carefully about if a community is the right approach.

Domain is not static

Domain is also one of those things that seems obvious at first -- we are interested in learning about how to become entrepreneurs -- but ends up being a bit more subtle.
In large communities, there may be a big, overarching domain, with smaller, more specialized subgroups. In some communities, the domain may be relevant for only a short period of time and then the community naturally comes to the end of it's life. The domain may shift when new people join or initial core members leave. Not all domain's are "eternal!" So the first lesson about Domain is that it is not static and it has to reflect and respond to the interests and needs of the member. So we might start a CoP on entrepreneurs coming out of a business course offering, but it may turn out that the core of the group is really interested in marketing for small businesses, or developing a horticulture business. Then you get to that "ignition" point where the interest and passion is sufficient to get the community going. That "commitment" that Etienne describes in his definition. Over time, the domain focus might shift again -- and responding to that shift is critical for community sustainability.

Community and personal identity

Domain also has to do with something else important in communities of practice: identity. The domain gives the community as a whole an identity, and it also is part of the identity of individual "members." Shawn Callahan from Anecdote often says a useful test of a domain is to be able to identify with it personally. So in a community of entrepreneurs, you would say, yes, I'm an entrepreneur. But it may have a lot more personal meaning if it was "yes, I'm own a small horticultural business" and thus the more specific domain has more meaning.

So if you are thinking about a communities of practice approach with your e-learners, ask yourself, what might be the domain of my community? Try it out on some of your learners. See what they tell you. If it resonates... keep going. If they look at you like you are crazy, keep refining your ideas about domain WITH them. Because after all, it will be THEIR community. If you do this little experiment, leave a comment here and share a story of what you learned!

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Communities of Practice (CoPs) with Nancy White

This is a series of blogs on Communities of Practice (CoP). I'm excited as I've teamed up with CoP guru, Nancy White Nancy is a regular keynote speaker on the conference circuit and expert practitioner. For me, it's like getting on the same football pitch with Manchester United's Ronaldo (or should I say my favourite football player Paul Gascoigne! I'm a Tottenham Hotspurs fan).

Nancy is writing, while I'm editing and doing the odd football/soccer trick (ie. doing a bit of writing). CoP is a hot topic in Ufi learndirect at the moment and an area we are piloting and testing. For me, Communities of Practice take love and attention to get right! They are about people and communities, not about technology or platforms. Anyway, here's blog 1...............

What is a Community of Practice and Why Should I Care?
You've probably heard the term bandied about ... "communities of practice" ... and in the same breadth someone says "the email list" or the "website." So what the heck are they talking about and how can a piece of software be a community? Read on...

What is a community of practice?

I like to start with the definition of a community of practice from the guy who coined the term, Etienne Wenger. Here is his definition. Note the last part - that is the important part:

Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope. In a nutshell:

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

There are three important things in this definition: groups of people (community), domain (a passion for something) and practice (do it better as they interact regularly.) CoPs are not one shot deals that happen at meetings or conferences. They grow and develop over time. In subsequent posts, we'll talk more about community, domain and practice - because they can be really useful terms as we think about launching and sustaining communities of practice. (CoP).

How are CoPs useful in learning?
But first lets get practical and think about the role of CoPs in eLearning. How can CoPs enhance learning?
  1. They offer the chance to making meaning of our learning as we apply it to our lives/work/tasks. When we learn something in a course, it can go in one ear and out the other. You know the old adage of the power of application. Even more powerful is how much we learn when we have to teach someone else. So the sharing of the application - what is working or not working, asking for help and teaching others what we know - makes our learning in a community of practice deeper and longer lasting.
  2. They connect us with people who can be resources for continued learning, opportunities for practice or even job leads. Communities can offer people access to networks which are particularly important if their learning is to support employment.
  3. They allow us all to use our expertise. The "teacher" or the course content may be the initial source of learning, but the learners themselves can be great sources of knowledge. Communities of practice may create things that capture and share their learning. They may bring in local context that deepens the learning. Together we know more than any one of us alone.

Wait a minute!

So does that mean you should rush out and start a CoP? It all depends... We need to ask ourselves a few questions before we go "launching a community" because CoPs are not always what we need. And that's ok. So here we go:

  1. The value to participants. Is there a group of people who want to and will interact and learn together over time? If not, maybe there is another form we should be looking at, such as a network. Or a site where people can go for related content. Communities have to be of enough value so people will take the time and effort to participate.
  2. Time and access. Do these people have the time and access to interact, particularly online since we are talking about an e-learning context? Are they already meeting face to face - and if yes, do you even need the added online layer? If not, don't bother!
  3. Is there an existing CoP that fills the need? If yes, think hard before you try and create a new community. It is easier to build on what exists than to start from scratch AND compete for attention.
  4. Support. If there is a group of people who want to learn together over time, is there sufficient conditions to nurture the community such as leadership and facilitation? Online CoPs , we've learned, really benefit from facilitation. Is that in the plan and the budget? If not, think twice.

The tool is not the community
If you still think a CoP is useful for your context, let's clear up one more issue. Web based tools, sometimes called "Web 2.0" tools allow us to "be together" as a community even if we are not in the same location. The internet has radically reshaped what a CoP can be. But it is VERY IMPORTANT not to confuse the community with the platform. Communities are made up of people. Platforms support their interactions. Just because you provide a platform does NOT mean you will auto-magically have a community. But these tools will allow you to support people connecting across distance, allowing a greater diversity of thought which can enrich a community. They allow communities to share what they know and connect to other communities and the world, which can deepen their learning. So technology has become an important part of the community toolkit.

If you are already using CoPs for yourself or for your learners, leave a comment here and tell a story or share a URL ... how is it working for you?

Want to know more about Communities of Practice? Here are some great resources:

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Email is so yesterday! (Social media for the young)

Here are two quotes from a recent study of “young people and the social media” that I saw quoted:

1) Email is “something that older people use”. Many are using social networking and other social media to communicate.

2) “Twitter is like walking to school with your friends and hanging out, while reading blogs is like homework”. (Twitter is a micro-networking site; often used on mobiles; you are limited to just 150 characters)

Many of the trends of the young and geeks are now mainstream. Will this? I like email! Though I do like communicating via social networks and communities.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Jing & Screencast (scoring web 2.0 tools)

In my last blog I was asked for my comments on how good I found the web 2.0 tools I used (see

I used Jink (a free, open source tool, easy for creating slideshows and screencasts) and hosted by screen (a free, open source tool, by the same company as Jing called TechSmith).
Jink is great, really easy to learn, it sits in the background in the top corner of your screen (so you can use it at a moments notice). You can take a screenshot (and do some nice animation), you can video your actions on your screen (ie. Used as a tutorial for learners or “how to….” session), you can record audio on top of a powerpoint presentation. You are limited to 5 minutes video only (though Jink use this as a USP saying 5 minutes is enough!!!). The problem is that the file format is not compatible with many other file sharing sites (eg. You Tube). This is a real issue for me and a real pain (I’m sure others too would have issue on this). Jing puts a positive spin on this saying it’s files are not compressed so are better quality.

I didn’t however like, a site where you host your Jing content. I couldn’t see any network effect (no real community sharing stuff and bouncing ideas of each other). It’s not that pretty a site (well to me in any case). You can embed files in other sites, but you are limited to only 1 type of widget (which isn’t the best) and it doesn’t work with all sites (eg. It doesn’t work with quite a few blogs).

That’s the end of the blog………but you can read on! I’ve rated Jing/screencast under several criteria. I’m going to try to do this with other tools. This will mean that I can compare & contrast tools. The main criteria are around ease of use; multi-media & instructional design (does it help learners learn). I’ve been tough on Jing/screencast as I see 10 out of 10 as very easy to use, fairly rich multi media, good instructional design & a good network!!! Please do let me know what you think of the criteria!!!

I've just set up a wiki for these tools. Please see (you won't be able to read the table below on blogger!)

Friday, 18 July 2008

What do employers want from training and elearning?

Here’s a very short presentation with audio of my view of what employers want from training and elearning. It’s based on numerous pieces of Ufi learndirect research, external research and my own direct experience of working with employers. All this in 4 minutes!!!!!

PS. I’m often asked what web 2.0 tools I have used. This presentation used Jink (a free, open source tool, easy for creating slideshows and screencasts) and hosted by screen (a free, open source tool, by the same company as Jing called TechSmith)

PPS. If you want the RSS feed or to add to your iTunes library visit......

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Make podcasting easy for learners and customers (user generated content), plus free guide

There are three aspects about making podcasting easy for learning
1) Technical aspect - “How to” do a podcast
2) Consider how podcasting fits into the learning (ie. the pedagogy in official speak!)
3) Create the right environment (or community of practice) so that learners want to share and can see the benefit.
In this blog, I’m going to take the first aspect (let me know if you would like me to cover the other aspects?)

For a definition of podcasting see

Podcasting made difficult! The standard steps are:
1) Buy an audio recorder. Learn how to use it!
2) Buy a microphone for the audio recorder. Learn how to use it! And where to place it for the best sound recording
3) Record the podcast (there are many different styles of a podcast from an interview style or just recording someone’s thoughts on a subject. You don‘t want it too boring, or to long or too many “hhmms“! etc). You might want to use a podcast for formal assessment as part of an e-Portfolio.
4) Use a USB cable to connect the audio recorder to your laptop. Transfer the file over (learn how to do this first!)
5) You may want to edit the podcast using great free software like Audacity (so you need to download the software from the web and learn how to use it!)
6) Many websites want a compressed MP3 file - so you need to learn how to convert the file to the right format (fairly easy to do, but still a learning process!)
7) Upload it to the website/LMS/social networking site/community of practice/your blog. Many sites are quite difficult. Unfortunately, too often it is not 1 button to upload, then a quick message to say it has been successful! (You may also want to share the podcast more widely. Then there are also is the learning curve around distributing the podcast via iTunes or RSS feeds).

You can combine some of the above steps by recording on a mobile phone or a camera, but you still have to work out how to connect it to your laptop and how to download it (on a mobile phone you often need to download the mobile phone own software in order to do this).

If you are not used to the web or don’t have the time, I would give up the will to live! Let’s make it easy for learners or tutors to share and collaborate.

Podcasting made easy - two ways:

Mobile Podcasting - see Gcast (or other similar sites). You use your mobile phone, call a number; you speak and your podcast is automatically recorded; it is automatically uploaded on the relevant website.

Podcasting via Skype - cut out many of the above steps by simply recording a Skype call via a free recorder widget. Then upload to the relevant site (make sure your site makes it possible to upload really easily though!). See

For a free guide about podcasting produced by my company, Ufi learndirect, with Kineo, please see (it’s a great guide particularly around the different styles of podcasts eg. Interview style podcast, but doesn‘t cover “how to make podcasting easy“)

There’s also a good podcast from Donald Clarke (a Ufi Board member)

Be great to hear from you if you have tips on “how to make podcasting easy for learners, teachers or customers”

Thursday, 3 July 2008

How I use Facebook (Social Networking and learning, 1)

I’ve been thinking about how social networking can be used for learning for a while now! The only problem is that I’ve been thinking about it by myself (which sort of defeats the object of social media!). So I thought I would put some of those thoughts on my blog as a first step. At the same time, Ben Tomkinson (who works in my team at Ufi learndirect) is looking at social networking, how other training providers and companies are using it (what can be learnt from this), and how Ufi learndirect might use it (though we already have some exciting things on the go).

As this will probably be a series of blogs, I will start at the beginning. How I use social networking sites and what I find useful. I find you need to understand the social web fairly well before you can then go on to thinking about learning solutions. I’m no expert but I have spent considerable time interacting on the social web (just ask my wife how annoying this is!!)

I’m on Facebook, Linked In (business networking) and Twitter (micro social networking). I know this sounds draconian, but my first step was to tell my friends that they could only interact with me via Facebook (yes, we can still meet face to face!! I’m talking about online here!). This blog is about Facebook.

What I found is that email communication is a poor man’s social network! Why do email when you can social network?

The two big things (for me in any case) is……
1) I do not want a million friends on Facebook!! My security is set so that only friends can view my Facebook page. I reject most people. I just want my friends (or those friends I have lost touch with accidentally!). I’ve rejected my Grandma’s invite to be a friend as at her age I don’t think she should know what I get up too!! I’m thinking of her health of course! Seriously though sometimes I don’t want all my family on my Facebook site! To solve this, I am thinking of having two pages - one for my inner circle and one for the rest. Also I’m aware that many people meet new people on the web (I do this more via specialist communities of practices or blogs. Some of these communities of practice are via Facebook. They are called “Groups”.)

2) Social Networking via a laptop is a bore and is so yesterday!! Mobile is so much better! You can organise your life, view your friends updates, update your status, upload photo’s all via your mobile. I have my mobile with me 24/7. I’m only online via a laptop for 5-10 hours a day (you may gasp!!)

I feel there is still a blog or two about social networking in general. But I promise that in future blogs I will discuss what can be potentially applied to learning. Also I’m very much aware that I’m quite into online social media. Others will not use it in as deep or rich way that I do! Others may use the social media in a deeper way than me! Though I do feel that what was once the preserve of the early adopter, the geek and the young is widening out. That you can look at some aspects of how geeks and the young use social media and in some cases see what the future is.

Help please!!! Could you let me know how you or your friends use social networking (or why you hate it!). Just put a comment on the blog (I know many of you prefer to email me with comments, but it would be great if you could share your views. Anonymous comments are fine!)

That’s the end of the blog………..PS. But read on if you want a more detailed list of what I like about Facebook (the same goes with the other sites):

  • Your friends know what you are up to. You know what they are up to (without millions of phone calls or texts!!). I update my status fairly regularly on Facebook (where am I. What am I doing. If it is vaguely interesting that is!). I put pictures on Faceebook (but mostly via mobile phone. You take the pic and send it to your Facebook site. It’s so easy. To be honest I really can’t be bothered to link my camera and upload pic’s via a laptop!). You don’t have to email or speak to friends - you can just be!! You interact when you want rather than think that you have to phone someone because you haven’t spoken to them for a while!
    Likewise I can keep track of my friends and what they are doing. All this is aggregated into one page (you don’t have to go into individual friends pages; though I do sometimes put messages on their “wall”)
  • Organise my social life. It’s much easier than email as you can chat to everyone (or selected subgroups) at once. I also instant message via Face book.
  • There are lots of widgets on Facebook developed by third parties. Some of them are fun where you can compare your interests with friends (eg. Music, films, IQ!) and do quizzes etc etc
  • Share your favourite clips and videos
  • Groups: I belong to groups on Facebook (eg. Tottenham Hotspurs, Springsteen and some learning groups). This is great. Companies should go where their customers are (as this is easiest for the customer).

PPS. Starter for 10. A list of questions I think we need answers to during any research. Do you have any to add??
1. How do people use social networking sites in their everyday lives. What may happen in 5 years!
2. How are training providers or tutors/lectures using social networking sites (case studies). How are companies using sites for communications/engagement with staff and customers. What can we learn?
3. What do the “experts” think social networking sites could be used for in relation to learning. How can it be used both in formal and informal learning (and structured vs. unstructured learning). Can it also be used as evidence for assessment? How is it blended with often linear (!) elearning courses.
4. What is the difference between a network (social network) and a community (a community of practice)
5. What are the pro’s and cons of using social networking sites for learning (eg. you should go to where your learners are; are there security issues)
6. What are the pro’s and cons of building your own community of practice outside a social networking site. (How do you build your own community? What are the Critical Success Factors to building a community of practice. There is now quite a bit of science out there to this!). Perhaps this is a separate piece of research?
7. What is the social networking functionality to Learner Management Systems. How can social networking sites (or community or practice) be integrated with a LMS?