COP_front_cover.jpgFacilitating Online

There are many clusters that are now using online tools such as blogs and wikis to develop a professional online community within the cluster and beyond. Knowing how to facilitate in a virtual setting is becoming an increasingly important skill.

Online Communities of Practice Literature Review

Recently a literature review was completed and published looking at 'Online Communities of Practice'. You can download a full copy of the report and read a summary of findings on:

Included below is the summary table for Section Five of the report that outlines how to design effective online communities of practice. Read through this and then complete the task below.

Summary of Findings - section five

5. Designing effective online communities of practice

Design Principle 1: Online communities of practice should be cultivated to grow naturally

Online communities of practice are grown rather than made.

  • Communities of practice are a combination of design and natural development; the design must allow for this development to occur.
  • A key to designing a vibrant and successful community of practice is to ensure that the design invites interaction.
  • Design should aim to bring out the community’s own internal direction, character and energy.
  • Communities of practice must be designed in a way so as to allow and encourage development.
  • A bottom-up design encourages a sense of ownership for members.
  • Online communities of practice can be built in terms of the technology, but members themselves must grow a community.

Several design strategies have been identified to cultivate the growth of online communities of practice:

  • Conduct a needs assessment to form a clear purpose;
  • Foster a sense of ownership ;
  • Allow plenty of time for the community of practice to grow; and
  • Encourage diversity.

Design Principle 2: Online communities of practice should be designed to support sociability and participation

Sociability and usability are key to designing online communities.

  • Sociability is primarily concerned with how members of a community interact with each other.
  • Usability is primarily concerned with how members interact with the technology of a community.

A number of strategies have been identified to support sociability and participation:

  • Allow members time to participate;
  • Add value to the community of practice;
  • Build a sense of community;
  • Allow different levels of participation;
  • Build social relationships and trust;
  • Develop clear policies; and
  • Ensure ease of use of technologies.

Design Principle 3: Online communities of practice should be created to attract a diverse membership

It is important to ensure that a critical mass of people belong to the online community of practice. Issues to consider in this include:

  • Ongoing recruitment of members;
  • Encouraging lurkers to participate; and
  • Structuring to accommodate geographical and contextual diversity.

Design Principle 4: Online communities of practice should be managed by providing for different roles

There needs to be different roles within communities of practice, particularly in online communities of practice.

  • There are a number of benefits to having defined roles in online communities of practice:
    • Reassurance;
    • Continuity; and
    • Structure.
  • In general, roles can be divided into four types:
    • Leadership roles;
    • Core members;
    • Support persons; and
    • Community members.

Design Principle 5: Online communities of practice should include t echnology designed with functionality to support sociability and knowledge sharing

As the choice of technology impacts on the community of practice, designers need to consider the:

  • Needs of the community;
  • Level of access to technology; and
  • Level of funding available.

Technology can support communities of practice in a number of ways:

  • Connecting members of the community of practice;
  • Supporting team work;
  • Building knowledge repositories;
  • Building a sense of community;
  • Encouraging participation;
  • Fostering identity and presence;
  • Mentoring; and
  • Online instruction.

Technology can be designed to be either ‘pull’ or ‘push’ in nature.


Design Principle 6: Online communities of practice require a blended approach to development where online activities are supported by offline activities

Many researchers suggest that the online activities should be supported by offline activities.

  • Reasons for this include:
    • Higher levels of satisfaction;
    • Helps in building trustworthy relationships; and
    • Provides a sense of community.

Task: Assessing an online collaborative space for effective design - personal reflective task
  • Look at an established online community - this could be one that you are already part of such as your cluster wiki or even this one! You could also use the 'Cluster Links' area in ICT PD online to explore the communities created by other clusters.
  • Assess the space against the design principles listed above (some principles will be difficult to judge if you are not a member of that community).
  • Decide what you think the 'next steps' would be for that community to become more effective

Further reading
There is an excellent set of blog articles on Communities of Practice that you can read to further explore this topic:

Communities of Practice (CoPs)
CoP Series #2: What the heck is a Domain and why should I care?
CoP Series #3: Community - without people?
CoP Series #4: Practice Makes Perfect
CoP Series #5: Is my community a community of practice?