Learning and Knowledge Sharing in Virtual Communities of Practice Motivators Barriers and Enablers: Advances in Developing Human Resources, Canada

Subject Advances in Developing Human Resources

Exercise1 Ardichvili: Learning and Knowledge Sharing in Virtual Communities of Practice: Motivators, Barriers, and Enablers
In “Learning and Knowledge Sharing in Virtual Communities of Practice: Motivators, Barriers, and Enablers,” Ardichvili (2008) explains that communities of practice (CoPs) are becoming more popular as a knowledge management strategy in many large corporations. The early literature on CoPs was focused on communities that could meet face-to-face, but as technology has advanced and workforces have become more geographically dispersed, virtual CoPs (VCoPs) have become more common. Unfortunately, there is a limited understanding of what drives knowledge sharing in VCoPs.

Ardichvili reviews the existing literature on VCoPs, which includes research about why an individual might choose to share or hoard their knowledge, how cultural differences can impact participation in a VCoPs, and how organizations can create an environment that fosters VCoPs. He brings together concepts from the literature in a proposed framework that includes three sections: motivating factors, barriers, and enablers. The purpose of this framework is to offer some concrete suggestions for HRD professionals tasked with cultivating VCoPs in their organizations. Highlights of each part of the framework are paraphrased below:


  • Personal benefits: status enhancement, career advancement, emotional benefits, intellectual benefits, material gain (linked to compensation
  • Community-related considerations: establishing ties with others, building a stronger community, guarding against external threats
  • Normative considerations: shared values and vision, conformity, reciprocity


  • Interpersonal: fear of criticism or misleading others
  • Procedural: lack of clarity on how to share, lack of clarity on what can be shared
  • Technological: lack of technical aptitude or resistance to technology
  • Cultural: saving face, modesty, power distance


  • Supportive corporate culture: supportive leadership
  • Trust: institutional and knowledge-based
  • Tools

VCoPs are especially interesting to me and I work with them daily, so I have some thoughts from my own experience! But I am eager to hear from others first.  I’ll offer up these two questions for discussion:

Question 1: If your workplace currently has virtual communities of practice, please describe the barriers, enablers, or motivating factors that you feel have the greatest impact on participation in those communities. Provide examples if possible. OR Imagine that you are going to implement virtual communities of practice in your workplace. Given what you know about the leadership, values, and organizational culture of your workplace, what potential barriers, enablers, or motivating factors might have the greatest influence on your new VCoPs? How would you address these to foster knowledge sharing in the VCoPs?

Question 2: As you consider the barriers, enablers, and motivating factors listed in the article, do you think any of them might be different today than when this article was written in 2008? Do you think any of them are more important, less important, or obsolete today, or are there any additional factors that might be relevant to our current understanding of VCoPs in 2021?

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Exercise 2 Davis: Learning Communities, Workplace as Complex System
In this article, the authors took a research project they had recently completed of an elementary school that had a basically entirely new staff of teachers at the start of a school year due to a school board decision. The community was unhappy with the change, and while virtually all of the teachers brought in were experienced, they were unhappy with the lack of support and feelings of isolation. The authors utilized complexity theory as a lens through which to examine what happened throughout the school year. To oversimplify the project’s results: the teachers formed a learning system by self-organizing based on curricular interests. Complexity theory is – unsurprisingly – a bit complex and applies to the world at large, not just education. I like the way it is summarized by Morrison (2008); he states that complexity theory is “a theory of change, development, and evolution through relationships” (p. 22). According to complexity theory, a complex system such as a school is not made up of individual people but instead is a “collective of dynamic and similarly complex systems” (Davis and Sumara, 2001, p. 88). The quality of the complex learning system relies upon, but is not determined by, the individuals involved. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In the case presented in the article, the working community at the school (i.e. teachers) is the learning system. The authors’ conclusions were that transformations that happened were not due to changes by the individual teachers but instead were the type of almost spontaneous collective change that can only happen in complex organizations. I will admit that I find it a little hard to wrap my head around the view that what happened was a change in the collective rather than a series of changes in the individuals.

Question 1: Do you agree with the authors that the transformation that happened at this elementary school was due to a change in the learning system overall? Why or why not?

Question 2: Can you think of instances in your current work environment where viewing through the lens of complexity theory may be of benefit?

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Exercise 3:
Chang & Jacobs: Determinants and outcomes of employee participation in a strategic community of practice: a mixed-method approach
Within this study researchers Chang and Jacobs (2012), focused on Communities of Practices (CoP) within work environments. A CoP is a community that shares a common problem or passion about a topic and continually engages in learning about it. The researchers observed how different variables (e.g., openness, problem-solving, etc.) related to participation in CoP. They based their research on these questions: “what is the relationship between characteristics and the nature of their involvement in strategic communities of practice, what is the relationship between participants’ perceptions and the nature of their involvement in strategic communities of practice, what is the relationship between the nature of participants’ involvement in strategic communities of practice and the outcomes, what outcomes did participants perceive that they achieved from their involvement in strategic communities of practice.” This study utilized a mixed methodology, but primarily focused on the quantitative method. A quantitative survey and follow-up surveys were administered to gauge participant’s involvement with CoP and to answer questions 1-3. The survey asked about expected demands and expected outcomes, nature of participant involvement, participant outcomes, knowledge-sharing culture, experience with the topic, participant characteristics, and participants demographics. In the qualitative portion, an interview was conducted, this was utilized to answer question 4. The results found that: Question 1- openness to experience and problem-solving self-efficacy are related to CoP involvement but no relationship for participant characteristics and time involvement. Question 2- expected outcomes were related to the level of involvement and time involvement, knowledge-sharing was also related to the level of involvement, no relationship was found for expected demands or experience with the level of commitment. Question 3- level of involvement and time involvement were related to learning and learning transfer. Question 4- four themes were discovered from the interviews: “gaining job-related information, solving problems at work, experiencing changes in personal effect, and communicating across the organization.”

Question 1: From the relationships (i.e., openness to experience, problem-solving self-efficacy, expected outcomes, knowledge-sharing, learning, and learning transfer) found which do you think is the most important to the level of involvement or time involvement, and why?

Question 2: From the themes found in the qualitative portion (i.e., gaining job-related information, solving problems at work, experiencing changes in personal effect, and communicating across the organization) pick one and discuss how you see this within your work field.

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