This page summarises an approach to identify and prioritise the ways in which members of a community learn together. This has implications for the selection of technology. It is based on a method called “community orientations” which is detailed in chapter 6 of “Digital Habitats”. There are some links to further resources at the end.
Note that discussion on this topic is still in progress so please also see the "Discussion" tab above.
People experience being part of a community in a wide variety of different ways, and communities have different styles. An “orientation” is a typical pattern of activities and connections through which members experience being a community. Nine distinct orientations have been identified. They are not mutually exclusive but each community will have a distinct pattern of orientations with some being more important and more prominent than others. A community’s orientation will likely evolve over time hence providing one of the triggers that may result in a need to change the selection of tools needed to support its activities.
- Open-ended conversations
- Access to expertise
- Individual participation
- Community cultivation
- Serving a context
An individual community's bias towards each of these orientations can be represented in a spider diagram:
The community places emphasis on regular, well attended meetings where members engage in shared activities for a specific period of time. Such events could be face-to-face, conference calls or other technologically enabled ways of being together with an agenda. They could be synchronous (everyone together at the same time) or asynchronous (people in different locations focusing on the same topic for a defined period of time). The rhythm of these activities would be one of the defining characteristics of the community.
Open Ended Conversations
A community need not meet regularly or at all. Some communities maintain on-going conversations as their primary vehicle for learning. Individual communities will vary in the breadth of topics under discussion and the proportion of participants who actively contribute compared to those who listen/read and learn. A community with this orientation would have a sustained flow of contributions and responses via email, web forum, twitter etc.
Some communities go beyond just sharing knowledge and discussing issues. Their learning needs require them to create something together and group members (not necessarily all members) collaborate on specific tasks according to an agreed plan. Such communities are defined by the committed engagement of members in organising themselves to do things together.
A community may be primarily interested in creating, sharing, and providing access to documents, tools and other material. Useful and well organised content is a valuable resource for members; it also attracts new members and makes it possible to offer a community’s expertise to others. A community with this orientation would be characterised by its regular identification or creation of new material and frequent downloads or use of existing material; active involvement with content: commenting, discussing, tagging, remixing, reorganising, and exploring relevance.
Access to Expertise
Does the community service as a “center of excellence,” with a focus on collaborating to answer questions or solve specific problems? A community with this orientation would define itself by the speed and quality of its responses to requests for advice and assistance, a trusted “go to” source for members and/or others.
Some communities emphasise the interpersonal aspects of learning together. Attention will be given to relationship building and getting to know each other personally to build trust and facilitate mutual discovery. Members care about who is in the community and activities probably include social/informal interaction as well as more general networking. Do participants in your community regard each other as friends?
We come to a group as individuals to learn together but communities are not homogeneous. To what extent does the group recognize and accommodate the unique needs and learning style of each individual member? Do you explicitly value and thrive on diversity so that each member develops their own style of participation and feels that they can have a meaningful connection to the community whatever their individual circumstances?
Communities vary on the breadth and depth of attention given to the health of the community itself. Is this something of primary importance, with significant time and resources allocated to planning and development? Do you make an effort to recruit orient and support new members?
Serving a Context
All communities of practice exist to meet their members’ learning needs within a particular context but in some cases that context becomes central to a community’s identity and the way it operates. This orientation applies when the agenda of a community is not exclusively its own members’ learning needs: perhaps participants are staff of a particular organisation and they are tasked with certain objectives by that organisation, or they may exist alongside other groups with whom the specific scope of each group has been negotiated to avoid duplication. Though members of the community are fully engaged, people outside of the community are also significant stakeholders. [On the spider tool, towards the center in inward focused]