Social Collaboration: Supporting Communities of Practice

Communities of practice are the basic building blocks of a social learning system because they are the social ‘containers’ of the competencies and knowledge that make up such a system. Social media provides rich robust platforms for communities of practice by both broadening the reach of the participants and by increasing the speed at which information and learning can be shared.

What is social collaboration?

Per Wikipedia, social collaboration refers to processes that help multiple people interact and share information to achieve any common goal. Such processes find their ‘natural’ environment on the internet, where collaboration and social dissemination of information are made easier by current innovations.  Social collaboration is group centric versus social networking which is more individual centric.


What are communities of practice?

Etienne Wenger summarizes Communities of Practice as “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.” Communities of practice emphasize learning or the acquisition of knowledge. They also allow for networking on a one-to-one level or a one-to-many basis.

Communities of practice are not new. Since the beginning of history, human beings have formed communities that share cultural practices reflecting their collective learning: from a tribe around a cave fire, to a medieval guild, to a group of nurses in a ward, to a street gang, to a community of engineers interested in brake design. Participating in these ‘communities of practice’ is essential to our learning. It is at the very core of what makes us human beings capable of meaningful knowing.

According to Wengercommunities of practice should look at the following elements: events, leadership, connectivity, membership, projects, and artifacts.  Good social media platforms provide all six of these key elements. Uniting a good community of practice on a robust social media platforms boosts the benefits of both. United, they have the power to transform healthcare.  Here are just a few examples:

  • They unite and empower our consumers the patients
  • They unite healthcare researchers from all over the world
  • They facilitate learning and access to resources across the country and around the world by caregivers, patients and loved ones
  • Patients with chronic diseases can share experiences and make their diseases more manageable
  • Consumers can seek out providers and potential treatments
  • Consumers can seek out information on ways to maintain their health
  • Consumers can access provider and payer information more readily

Wenger, Etienne (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, Etienne and Snyder, William (2000) ‘Communities of Practice? The Organizational Frontier’, Harvard Business Review January–February.

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