Communities of Practice [ID Blog]

Communities of Practice are great(CoP). They’re pretty much ubiquitous. According to Merriam and Bierema’s Adult Learning (2014), the family is listed as a CoP. For me, I’d say one of the most involved CoPs I’ve been involved with was dog obedience.

While living in Florida I had my own Alaskan Malamutes. I worked for the national breed rescue as well. Yes, there are Mals in Florida- but you need good A/C and baby pools to keep them happy in summer. They will never have a heavy winter coat like their relatives living up north so they appear smaller and/or thinner. But I digress.

There are two divisions in dog shows: Breed (aka the ring) and Obedience. The ring is what you see on TV  – handlers running their dogs around a ring on slip leads while a judge watches their movements. Judges then go over each dog with their hands to see how each dog conforms to that breed’s standard. Everyone is dressed up – no jeans and sneakers in this crowd.

Then you have the outside areas which not only includes the dogs competing in obedience (sit/stay/ walking off lead, going over jumps, taking direction from their owner/handler via hand signals and/or verbally) and in agility, the fun obstacle course with tunnels and seesaws.

I wanted to get into obedience but other than books at the library and some dog magazines including the AKC’s magazine that listed where obedience trials would be taking place, I had no idea how to get involved. I looked up (this was the early 90s) the phone numbers for dog clubs in the area. There was one in St. Petersburg, FL near me. Through meetings and interacting with people involved in the sport, I learned the lingo. Now I laughed at shirts that said Winner’s Bitch and kid’s shirts that said Bred by Exhibitor. I attended meetings with my dog, Sunday, and learned how to work him in an obedience ring. Through these folks I learned that individual breed clubs had their own competitions as well. When I discovered something that I had found out, I shared with everyone at the next meeting or if time was of the essence, I phoned a couple of members who in turn phoned a few more.

I went from someone with a dog and a dream, and ended up speaking the jargon, understanding the rules, helping others that joined after me, and continued to learn and grow until I moved out-of-state. The tips, tricks, etc. that I learned from these folks are still part of my knowledge-base today. As my daughter has grown up I’ve shared them with her. I will always be grateful to those folks and should I find myself in a place where once again I may have a dog, I shall seek out my closest dog training club because no matter where I am, that is how I connect with my tribe.

Who would ever have thought that learning through others this way was actually a learning theory? Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave’s theory of Situated Learning and Communities of Practice remind me of when you cut a tree in half. You see the rings that get smaller and denser towards the center. That is like a Community of Practice: you start on the outer edges, interested but (and this is the difference between a CoP and Sander’s Community of Interest ([CoI]) you are also practicing albeit at just a beginner’s level. Through interaction, learning and sharing from those more seasoned and skilled, your knowledge grows and you move closer to the center. Now you begin to share things and those on the outer rings are learning from you whilst you’re still learning from those in the center. Everyone is rewarded and everyone is participating and learning. Even the “masters” in the center can still learn new things from those farther out from them as well as from other sources.

I thank wikimedia commons for the images.