On communities, processes and technology

A recent set of conversations with customers and colleagues around communities of practice, networked learning, tools and platforms has provoked a lot of thought.

One perspective, that was heavily process oriented & steeped in real life experiences, argued that unless processes and workflows (and related metrics) were established, implementing these tools in the enterprise would be exhausting and with little return for the amount of effort it would take to manage and the money it would cost.

Then I came across (thanks Swati and Shikha!) this Defence Acquisition University (DAU)  Community of Practice Implementation Guide, which provides a 14-step, 3 phaseprocess for setting up practices that could contain CoPs, Shared Interest Areas (SIA) and collaborative workspaces. This document is very elaborate and covers processes, roles, permissions, workflow, engagement rules and metrics for setting up CoPs and community knowledge bases.

With true process orientation, this document provides a fairly detailed best practice for the DAU in its community development initiatives. What struck me, at second glance, was the fact that it leverages the same principles that we would use to create and manage an enterprise unit. 

The second set of comments was around how useful or participated in really are blogs and wikis. Talk CoPs or networked learning, and all that people think of is Web 2.0 technology and tools, the hype not really difficult to understand, given that major technology vendors are pushing for implementation of these tools in their recent launches.

The perception that the process and/or the technology are responsible for making networked learning happen is problematic. This is especially true given the power laws we have experienced in terms of community participation and effectiveness or the constant refrain that elearning is not, perhaps, living upto its potential.

Stephen explains in his post, Connectivist Dynamics in Communities, that connectivist networks produce connective knowledge. Four elements  distinguish a knowledge-generating network from a mere set of connected elements. These are autonomy, diversity, open-ness and interactivity & connectedness. There are compelling arguments that Stephen makes, as in the past, that we need to respect these elements if we want to increase the probability of generating new knowledge (and make sense of the current base of knowledge). These elements can also be the basis of metrics and tracking.

George laments the inadequacy of tools for sense-making. He also declares…But any view of society that does not start with the individual is disconcerting.

All these views, taken together, suggest that there is something more to networked learning than just processes and technology. It is a connectivist approach, a model that focuses on how we learn, that provides us a different lens through which to regard fundamental questions such as how do we learn to perform in a fast changing environment or how do we get incited to participate in a network to create new knowledge.

More concerted thoughts to follow in good time…

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