In social networks we can learn from each other; modelling behaviours, telling stories, and sharing what we know. This may not be highly efficient, but it it can be very effective. You will know you’re in a real community of practice if it changes your practices.
Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory posits that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. The theory has often been called a bridge between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories because it encompasses attention, memory, and motivation.
If we look at how organizational training & development has functioned, it has been separate from the work being done and focused on shaping behaviours. There is strong evidence that we need to integrate learning into our work in order to deal with the increasing complexity of knowledge work. The valued work in the enterprise is increasing in variety and decreasing in standardization. I have suggested that communities of practice are the bridge between work teams and open social networks, with narration of work an enabler of knowledge-sharing, and of course, modelling behaviour.
The way that Triple Creek [I have no relationship with this company] positions its Open Mentoring platform is a current example of a tool that could enhance social learning (modelling) in the bridging area that communities of practice can offer.
As long as this type of tool is not tied to any team, project or supervisor, it could help connect members of a community of practice. The challenge would be in finding a balance between intrinsic and extrinsic goals. Too much shaping and not enough modelling could turn this into one more thing that has to be done (like annual performance reviews).
Communities are more like dance halls than factories. Platforms that have too much control will not be adopted on a community level. As a consultant, I would like to be able to recommend a variety of these platforms, that can inter-operate on some level, so that enterprise communities can choose the most suitable ones for their stage of development. All communities of practice are unique and will grow, mature and often die over time. No single platform will meet all community needs, but if it supports one of these principles for working smarter – Transparency, Narration of Work or Distribution of Power – it would be worth checking out.