Communities extend learning by creating a structure in which people can learn from informal interactions – Kaplan
Learning is a change in behaviour due to acquired information. This process goes on with and without conscious effort. Every minute brings in circumstances that would require information available to be processed as per the requirement. This process builts in a pattern or a system to identify information. In a professional environment, this pattern may get facilitated through the formal education. This education system builds on a pattern for thinking and refining information. The education couples theory and practical information to bring the best of both the worlds. It includes learning from cohorts and guidance from the leaders. This becomes guided when it happens within a group as the learning is contained.
The journey takes a turn when the formal education ends with an internship and apprentice. The daily activities require a lot of information to be applied with business intelligence. It may range from, how to use a printer in a new office up to a due diligence made during an acquisition. The success rate depends on the application of the acquired information and intelligence. This implementation gets accentuated if the peers and mentors provide the guidance. Every individual may know what to do, but the integral part of how exactly to do it and what not to do comes from collective understanding.
This is where the power of learning community steps in. The community provides information through several outlets such as discussion boards in CiteHR. Here, the seeker may ask a question and get it answered. The seeker may further observe how others are dealing and responding to similar situations. The individual may note these responses to form the infrastructure in order to remain agile. This kind of experiential learning cannot be formally taught. It needs to be absorbed with investment of time and personal focus. The relationship between the individual and the community would depend on the success rate through the application of the learning gained. Trust is thus built among them.
The structure of these communities may adhere to the forms explained traditionally as paired, teams and clusters. The teams and pairing are mostly formal, though the clusters may remain informal. For e.g.: when an employee joins a company, they get affiliated to the team they work and are assigned with mentors. This is formal association of teaming and pairing. This begins the first step where the individual would learn the intricacies within the job. As the need to collect more information would increase beyond the current tasks, It would then permeate to the larger group with people outside the functional area. Such as if an individual had joined the production department, they might have to collect the customer feedback received by the sales department. This would initiate the blurring of boundaries beyond the formal association. At times sharing information gets obstructed by the professional secrecy and peer pressure. Here the individual moves beyond the learning sources to the affiliates outside the organization such as learning communities formed through associations. The information collected through blurring boundaries may remain ghastly if not refined and fine tuned. For e.g., a technical professional may require to purchase a technology product. The information about the product can be attained through researching over the intranet. For more choices, the individual may attend a Trade fair and find many new products relevant to their field. Yet the primal addendums would be made in their understanding through expert advice. The individual would be able to refine information through proficient counsel. This expert advice can come from the cohorts, mentors and a cluster of people in the learning communities and forums. The understanding thus gained will help the individual to decide on the product.
“We concluded that the only way to continue this collective learning process was to work more collaboratively across many organizations. Only then would people see just how universal their deepest problems were. Only then would one company’s small steps be encouraging to others. Only then would the inevitable setbacks and crises that all organizations encounter not derail them–for they would be able to look at the progress that others were making and get themselves back on track. In a funny way we rediscovered a very old idea. In facing the challenges of profound change, there is no substitute for collaboration–people coming together out of common purpose and willing to support one another so that all can advance. Without actually intending it, we began to create a learning community.” – [“The Academy As Learning Community: Contradiction in Terms or Realizable Future?” Senge, in Leading Academic Change: Essential Roles for Department Chairs, Lucas, A. F. & Associates, 2000, pp. 280-281.]
The downside to these community based learning is propagating the group think. Though this can be easily avoided by propagating the advantage in managing the difference in opinions to bring out the best from everyone. Furthermore, the involvement of leaders would propagate further learning. This stands a threat when the leader is not aligned to the community or the changing requirement and the demography of the community. At certain times stringent rules drive learners out of the group. This can be pre-wired by keeping an open forum where everyone can share their ideas without being judged. Transparency would bring in mutual respect among the members. Other than this, the engagement level would see different cycles depending on the amount of learning infused in these communities. Hence at times, the members may feel the community dying down. This can be mitigated by keeping an upbeat atmosphere in the group. The cycles would not affect when every member is clear about their learning goals. New members would remain an influencer redefining the community with every questions and new discussions. The propensity to seek knowledge surmounts in new members. Hence once they receive it, they are likely to move away from the community. This can be moderated by encouraging members to contribute and show them how they can learn better through these contributions. The learning begins with acquisition and ends with implementation and sharing it. Growth and maturity in learning truly begins beyond this sharing phase. The community may need to have a path of progression for its members, so that every member is motivated to graduate to the next level.
“Learning is not an ‘add on,’ to be done when we have some free time or at training sessions. Some of the most significant innovations have been in infrastructures and day-to-day practices, allowing teams and intact work groups to integrate working and learning.”– [The Academy As Learning Community: Contradiction in Terms or Realizable Future?” Senge, in Leading Academic Change: Essential Roles for Department Chairs, Lucas, A. F. & Associates, 2000, pp. 280-281.]