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Title: The usefulness of Wenger's framework in understanding a community of practice
Authors: Bozarth, Jane
Advisors: Diane Chapman, Committee Co-Chair
Bonnie Fusarelli, Committee Member
Colleen Wiessner, Committee Member
Julia Storberg-Walker, Committee Co-Chair
Keywords: communities of practice
training and development
Issue Date: 2-Dec-2008
Degree: EdD
Discipline: Adult and Community College Education
Abstract: ABSTRACT BOZARTH, JANE. The Usefulness of Wenger’s Framework in Understanding a Community of Practice. (Under the direction of Julia Storberg-Walker and Diane Chapman.) ABSTRACT BOZARTH, JANE. The Usefulness of Wenger’s Framework in Understanding a Community of Practice. (Under the direction of Julia Storberg-Walker and Diane Chapman.) Communities of practice (CoPs) are self-managed groups of individuals who share a common interest, often a work role, and interact with the intention of improving practice. As 21st-century American businesses face global expansion and the exodus of the Baby Boomer generation from the workforce, developing new knowledge management strategies, particularly those capable of capturing hard-to-document tacit knowledge, is a critical need. Extant literature deals heavily with the formation and attempted management of communities of practice, but is sparse on what actually takes place inside them; that is, how they “work,†information that could prove invaluable to business leaders. Etienne Wenger (1998) is widely cited for his work on the topic of communities of practice. However, the framework he developed in his seminal book Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity is overlooked in the academic and popular business press, where the focus is most typically on managing a community of practice, rather than understanding their internal dynamics. Further, no study since the book was published has ever tested Wenger’s framework to see whether, or the degree to which, the framework is useful when applied to another context. This instrumental case study is an attempt to fill this gap in the research literature. It tested the framework to determine the extent to which it was useful in understanding the internal dynamics of a community of practice. While the findings of this study confirmed a generic adequacy of Wenger’s framework, the study suggests important enhancements to the Wenger framework for future researchers. A refined framework for understanding the internal dynamics of a community of practice was generated in this study. This refined framework contributes to the existing knowledge of CoPs by extending the understanding of how a successful CoP “works,†informs new means for transmitting tacit knowledge, establishes new guidelines for future researchers, and paves the way for the eventual development of a fully operationalized theory of CoPs. Implications for practice may include consideration of the CoP not only as possessing knowledge which might be harnessed, but as a means of retaining high-performing staff by providing them a space in which they can excel. It is hoped that future research on communities of practice will be influenced by the refined framework generated by this study. Further, scholars and practitioners now have research findings that support a shift in focus from managing a community of practice, to nurturing and understanding the significant internal dynamics of learning, meaning, and identity.
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