Her blog post presents a misleading contest between the two as communities of practice is probably the most well-known concept in social learning theory. The core principle behind communities of practice is that learning is a social journey. A practice in a community of practice – especially a practice of any depth – requires a sustained history of social learning.
Tiffany highlights the problem when she says
When it comes to the terms “Social Learning” and “Communities of Practice”, many people in the corporate learning realm are confused, myself included.
“Social Learning” – along with “Personal Learning Networks” – are being cranked up in HR. Social learning is being used as though it referred to social media by people like Jane Hart of C4LPT.
Jane’s social learning handbook sees social learning as a social media revolution where
… everyone can have access to the Social Web and a range of services and applications to support their own as well as their team’s learning, performance and productivity.
Tiffany Fary, in the same blogpost, sees social learning as
What do *I* need to know and who knows how to answer this quickly? Knowledge is primarily consumed or pulled from experts.
Her description is slightly broader than Jane’s as social learning is
leaning in the wild, via conversation, social media and the learning 2.0 technologies.
Social learning – and communities of practice – have been around a lot longer than social media. They have probably been around even longer than conversations – homo erectus junior was only grunting while he watched homo erectus seniors make and throw spears for hunting.
It’s just that social learning (and communities of practice) have become helpful ways of understanding how we know and learn at a time in history when solving complex problems problems needs more and diverse perspectives. Convening those different perspectives in pursuit of getting better at doing things is proving more helpful than the belief that we we merely transfer knowledge for people to apply.
Social media offers all sorts of new ways to convene – and make heard – different perspectives and voices. At the same time many more people are using social media to get just-in-time info, instant answers, feedback or perspectives. Social media is making it even more important that we get better at understanding the processes behind social learning.
So in response to Tiffany’s invitation to understand the difference between some of the terms we are using, I make this offering:
- Social learning is a view on how we learn i.e socially in interaction with each other.
- Social networks, personal networks and communities of practice are different ways that social learning manifests itself.
- Social networks (a bunch of PLNs) refer to connections and relationships between people that are used as a resource for solving problems, sharing knowledge and making more connections (1)
- Communities of practice are a learning partnership between people who use each others practice as a learning resource (1)
(“Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: a conceptual framework” by Etienne Wenger, Beverly Trayner, Maarten de Laat, forthcoming paper for the Open University of the Netherlands)