When learners become teachers – how community roles shift over time
Community of practice members may start by being learners and end up being teachers who still learn.
Let’s look at patterns of behaviour in a Community of Practice forum, or discussion area.
- When a novice employee is very new to an organisation or to a topic, they are usually very quiet in a community forum. They are still learning the basics, which they get from training and from the community knowledge base, and they spend 100% of their community time watching and reading community discussion. They don’t tend to ask questions on the forum – their questions are still fairly basic, and if they do ask, the answer is usually a version of “read the flipping manual“.
- After a while, and maybe quite quickly in some cases, the employee starts to face problems and issues that are not in the manual. That’s when they start to ask questions of the Community, and begin to use the Community members themselves as a resource. They move from 100% lurking and reading, to (over time) mostly asking.
- After a bit more time, the employees begin to find that they themselves can answer the questions of others. They have become practitioners, they understand the practice, and can share the lessons they have learned. This can happen relatively quickly as well – I remember interviewing one guy who was less than 2 years into the company, and a question came up on the community forum which was related to a special study he had just completed. He answered this successfully, and reported how pleased he was to be able to “feed something back” to the CoP.
- The more experienced members- now experts in their topic – may take on a leadership role in the CoP, as core team members, or as subject matter experts, with accountability for teaching and for owning some of the Knowledge Assets of the Community. However a good expert never stops learning. Only last week I saw, in a busy community forum, an expert asking for feedback, comments and advice on a document she had produced. Even the most advanced expert should spend some time asking, some time answering, and some time teaching.