Social Media and Communities of Practice (SoMe&CoP)

By Jonathan Sherbino (@sherbino)

I have been thinking about communities of practice lately. In early January, I was at the Royal College office in Ottawa, Canada for a two day meeting on the evolution of CanMEDS. The group included a large number of CEs from across Canada. Each of us provide consultative work for the Royal College on a variety of medical education issues / challenges. In this instance, it was the analysis of multiple working group reports on CanMEDS 2015.

I have collaborated with some of these colleagues for more than seven years. During this time, new members have joined; others have left. The shared “work” has transcended clinical specialties, covered the entire spectrum of systematic educational design and involved many countries around the world. My time in Ottawa reinforced for me that this group of CEs is truly functioning as a community of practice.

The term community of practice (CoP) was coined by Wenger and Lave. But, the definition I like best comes from Confessore ‘the collaborative, informal networks that support professional practitioners in
their efforts to develop shared understandings and engage in work-relevant knowledge building’.


So, elements of a CoP include:

  • self-selection of members (community) based on peer-recognized abilities, rather than a forced organizational affiliation;
  • a specific content area (domain) addressed by the group; and,
  • the shared creative activities (practice) of the group.

Communities of practice are collectively engaged in the creation of new ideas, knowledge, innovations, programs, etc. Participation involves more than networking or exchanging data. Junior members can be fostered by the CoP via legitimate peripheral participation, developing abilities that allow greater contribution in time. If you’re interested in reading more about CEs and CoPs check out this FOAM resource.

CoPs are not new. But what has piqued by interest is the potential impact of social media on communities of practice (#SoMe&CoP). (My trip to Ottawa involved 3 airports and two different airlines – the travails of winter travel into the second most northern national capital behind Moscow!) Social Media uses digital platforms to connect geographically-separated communities (or those trapped by snow and ice) on a common topic. The “community” and “domain” criteria are met; what about the “practice”? Some SoMe communities are engage in a shared process of creation, but not every one.

Right now this blog is connecting people and sharing ideas. My hope is that in the coming year the ICENet blog can transition from a SoMe community to a SoMe&CoP.

Featured image courtesy of ddpavumba /
Image courtesy of Ohmega1982 /