Design and support strategies for learning in virtual communities of practice.
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To face the challenges of their profession, individuals need to learn quickly to meet new issues, to develop new knowledge in their organizations and to share the knowledge with others in their community. Increasingly, corporate trainers and educational specialists are integrating distance education instructional and information technologies to offer individuals a means by which information may be easily accessed, support may be received and given, and advice and experience may be shared. What we are witnessing in this information era is the emergence of new social communities created by the application of information technologies. Knowledge sharing and learning in communities of practice is currently receiving a great deal of attention in both academic and business circles. There is also much discussion regarding design and support strategies for co-located and visual communities of practice. However, it is unclear how knowledge creation and communication in globally distributed communities can contribute to effective professional practice. The purpose of the study was to examine how information technology can be used to increase the skills and knowledge of professionals and how it can support interaction in communities of practice. The study’s prime focus was to develop a design framework for how information technology can be used by distance education practitioners to support learning and the sharing of knowledge in globally distributed communities of practice. The grounded theory methodology provided the basis for the findings reported in this study. The theoretical framework and interpretations presented are grounded in the quantitative and qualitative data of historical documents, 102 online surveys and 15 telephone interviews. This study describes communication practices and the use of technologies in a globally distributed community of financial sector supervisors. It discusses 10 elements which impact knowledge sharing and learning within a community of practice and proposes a theoretical framework for the implementation and diffusion of technologies within the community. This study identifies three key considerations for distance education practitioners: (a) the context or elements of the community, (b) how technologies can be turned into virtual learning spaces that meet the needs of the community, and (c) a strategy for encouraging the adoption of technologies within the community.