Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Knowledge Ecology vs. Community of Practice

As a special type of community, Wenger (1998) introduces the concept of communities of practice (CoP). Wenger et al. (2002) defines CoP as "groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis". Wenger (1998) discusses three dimensions of communities of practice: mutual engagement, a joint enterprise, and a shared repertoire. Knowledge ecologies differ from CoP on all these dimensions.

According to Wenger, the first characteristic of practice as the source of coherence of a community is the mutual engagement of participants. He stresses that the kind of coherence that transforms mutual engagement into a community of practice requires work and asserts that the work of "community maintenance" is an intrinsic part of any practice. Knowledge ecologies, by contrast, are characterized by independence and diversity coming from lack of mutual engagement. Rather than being forced to interact intensely with other members of a CoP, within knowledge ecology, everyone can rely on her personal knowledge network. Often, people turn to their personal relationships in order to learn and get their work done, rather than trying to get access to a well established community of mutual engagement. Consequently, people focus on forming, maintaining, and sustaining their personal knowledge networks rather than maintaining the community of practice to which they belong.

Wenger states that the second characteristic of practice as a source of community coherence is the negotiation of a joint enterprise. He notes that communities of practice are not self-contained entities. They develop in larger contexts - historical, social, cultural, and institutional - with specific resources and constraints. Consequently, the practice of a community is profoundly shaped by conditions outside the control of its members due to external efforts to maintain influence and control over the practice. In contrast to CoP, knowledge ecologies are not positioned within a broader system and are not bound to the control of any external force. They emerge naturally without strong predetermined rules or institutional authority. Knowledge ecologies are thus self-controlled and self-contained entities.

Wenger notes that the third characteristic of practice as a source of community coherence is the development of a shared repertoire. He points out that the repertoire of a community of practice includes routines, words, tools, ways of doing things, stories, gestures, symbols, genres, actions, or concepts that the community has produced or adopted in the course of its existence, and which have become part of its practice. In contrast to CoP, knowledge ecologies lack a shared repertoire and are thus open and distributed domains. The knowledge resources are distributed over all personal knowledge networks within knowledge ecology.


Chatti, M. A., Jarke, M. & Quix, C. (submitted). Connectivism: The Network Metaphor of Learning.


Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R. & Snyder, W. M. (2002). Cultivating Communities of Practice. Harvard Business School Press, Boston.

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Anonymous said...

An interesting post although I'm not so sure that the distinction between knowledge ecologies (KEs) and CoPs is as clear-cut as you suggest. KEs are based around individuals, but individuals work in particular contexts and situations. To get support to get their work done, people need support that understands that context. To me, this implies two things: (a) that KEs interact within a broader system and (b) that KEs imply some form of shared repertoire as commonly understood ways of geting things done.

Just a couple of thoughts - hope they're of interest. Thanks

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Amine Chatti said...

Thanks Pete for your interesting thoughts. I totally agree with you that "individuals work in particular contexts and situations". In my eyes, this context is their personal knowledge networks (PKN) which are at the heart of KE. I believe that we don't need a macro system or an overarching framework to get our work done, our PKN can help us there. Our PKN will also serve as a knowledge repertoire. And, KE, defined as "a knowledge intensive landscape that emerges from the bottom-up networking of PKNs", can then be viewed as a distributed knowledge repertoire that get help in getting things done.