By Guest Blogger: Lindsey Millan is an employee and graduate student at Kent State University. In her free time, she enjoys reading, roller skating, and spending time with her daughter. She is incredibly grateful for her husband Nate, who is supportive all of her endeavors.

  

Over the past 10 years or so, higher education systems have seen a demand for more online courses and programs of study. This demand has forced institutions to think about course development and the overall learning community in a different way. We often refer to the "traditional" student in higher education: the recent high school graduate who lives on campus and is working on their degree full-time.  However, student demographics are changing, and the "traditional" student is becoming less of a reality at many institutions. A growing number of students fall into the "non-traditional" category: working professionals who have more pressing demands outside of the classroom. These students need more flexible course schedules and different types of learning tools in order to succeed in their academic pursuits.

So, how does knowledge management fit into these scenarios?  Well, how can we provide students with the tools they need to be successful?  What can we do to meet students where they are and on their timeframe? How can we help non-traditional and online students connect with their peers and other resources?

Utilizing an online community of practice (CoP) can help us solve some of the issues presented by the shift to more non-traditional learning methods. Communities of practice can help us move from the teacher to student learning model to learning as more a social and collaborative experience (Smith, 2003, 2009).   So far in this blog, we have thought about communities of practice in the context of the workplace or a professional group.  Creating communities of practice in both traditional and non-traditional settings could help students make connections in their fields of study that could eventually translate to personal or professional connections.

A community of practice is a group of people that come together over a common interest or subject (Smith, 2003, 2009). The members of the group learn together over time and create a collective memory of experiences and ideas (Smith, 2003, 2009). In a university setting, we could create communities of practice for each class, program of study, and area of interest. We could also give students the tools to create their own communities of practice, enabling them to learn in innovative and creative ways. Those tools could be blogs, wikis, discussion boards, and instant messaging and videoconferencing software (Becerra-Fernandez & Sabherwal, 2015).

When people first become involved in a CoP, their participation is usually less significant than that of more experienced members (Smith, 2003, 2009). The community helps them learn the vocabulary and processes of the group.  They also learn how to interact with others in the group and what is important to the community as a whole (Smith, 2003, 2009). As they learn, they contribute more frequently and provide more pertinent information to the group (Smith, 2003, 2009).

This pipeline diagram is my vision for moving students through via a community of practice model.  A type of pipeline is created as students move through their studies and enhance their knowledge.  As students move through each of the various groups, they develop more complex skills and more specific relationships that will help them continue to grow and ultimately make connections with employers.  Once students graduate, they can still contribute to some of the communities and help others broaden their own knowledge.  This would help graduates stay connected to their alma mater and also foster the idea of lifelong learning.

As students' progress through the pipeline, they will be able to see how the connections they are making will help them in their future careers and be able to apply that to their courses and programs of study.  The students may decide through the help of the communities that they want to go in another direction.  These CoPs would help the university community become more innovative and creative and break out of the traditional mold (Smith, 2003, 2009).

Today's students can become easily frustrated by the slow-moving traditional structure of most universities (Smith, 2003, 2009). Look at how fast everything else in the world moves!  Using CoPs can help us transition to a fast-paced organizational model that supports online learners (Smith, 2003, 2009). They can also help all stakeholders become more informed participants in their own careers or areas of focus.

Ultimately, CoPs, along with other online learning tools, could create a more collaborative, community-focused environment for all students, no matter where they fall on the spectrum of student types. The communities can help students be better prepared for the workforce when they graduate, while fostering connections and mentors that can help them in academics and beyond.

By Guest Blogger

Lindsey Millan is an employee and graduate student at Kent State University. In her free time, she enjoys reading, roller skating, and spending time with her daughter. She is incredibly grateful for her husband Nate, who is supportive all of her endeavors.   

 

References

1. Smith, M.K. (2003, 2009). Jean Lave, Etienne Wenger and communities of practice. The encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved from http://infed.org/mobi/jean-lave-etienne-wenger-and-communities-of-practice/

2. Becerra-Fernandez, I., & Sabherwal, J. (2015). Knowledge management: Systems and Processes(2nd Ed). New York, NY: Routledge Publishing Company

3. Millan, L. [Community of practice pipeline for universities]. Created March 2016.