Whatever your passion, you can bet there’s someone else in the world who shares it. Once you find that common interest, it’s just a short hop to creating a whole community built around the thing you love.
If you want to learn how to start a community of practice, read on for best practices, tips + 3 awesome community of practice examples to get inspired by.
What is a community of practice?
A community of practice is a group of people who have an interest, passion or concern in common and come together to learn more about it.
As the name suggests, communities of practice collaborate and communicate, sharing knowledge between one another as a community. They have a shared identity that’s built around their common interest.
Lave and Wenger communities of practice
The term ‘communities of practice’ was first coined by social anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger. Specialists in cognitive anthropology, Lave and Wenger studied apprenticeships and developed a theory that a community can act as a living curriculum.
For Lave and Wenger, communities of practice described groups of people who take part in collective learning where each individual shares their knowledge with the others in the group. Their community of practice theory was rooted in the concept of social learning and it was soon expanded from apprenticeships to other examples.
In fact, communities of practice exist all around us. A community of practice could be a group of children in a clique at school, yoga teachers in a studio or art historians on Reddit. It doesn’t matter where the community is or what interests it revolves around – a community of practice can be formed by anyone, anywhere and about anything.
Read more: How to Build an Online Community
3 elements of a community of practice
According to Lave and Wenger, to qualify as a community of practice a group needs to have 3 essential elements. These things separate a community practice from just a regular group of friends or acquaintances.
Let’s take a look at the 3 elements:
For a community of practice to work, individuals in the group have to have a shared area of interest – or a domain of interest.
This is essential as it’s the thing that brings the members of the community together. This usually includes a common goal and helps to inspire the members to collaborate and communicate with one another. At the same time, the domain is also the subject for the shared learning that takes place in the group.
Of course, it’s not enough to just have a shared interest – for a community of practice to work, the members need to actively create a community around their chosen domain.
Community can take many different forms and varies according to the subject. Some community-making activities include:
- Face-to-face meetings
- Social media groups
- Group activities
The form of communication isn’t the important thing – what’s important is the sense of community that the communication creates. It’s this that allows for shared learning and collaboration within a community of practice.
The last element that turns a regular group of colleagues into a community of practice is that they need to be practitioners in their domain.
What does this mean? Simply put, members of the community of practice work towards a shared goal of learning how to do things better and further their knowledge. They generate ideas and resources aimed at improving their knowledge within the domain.
If you think back to the original community of practice theory put forward by Wenger and Lave, apprenticeships aren’t just about having a shared interest and a community – they are also working towards improving members’ understanding and abilities in their field.
Let’s take a look at a quick example…
Imagine a group of bird-watching enthusiasts. These bird lovers live around the world but they use Twitter to share tips and photographs of the birds they’ve seen and meet regularly for online webinars on bird-related topics. They collaborate with one another on where to spot certain species, bird identification tips and gear recommendations. They have all the elements of a community of practice – domain, community and practice.
Got an idea for your own community of practice? Here’s how to start a community of practice in 7 simple steps.
How to start a community of practice
Starting your own community of practice involves a few different steps, including choosing your goals, selecting moderators and finding an effective way for your members to communicate.
Here are our top tips for how to start a community of practice, whatever your interest.
1. Outline your domain
If you’re wondering how to start a community of practice, it’s a good idea to first start with your domain. To find other members who share your interests, try to outline exactly what your domain is – and what it isn’t.
A community of practice should have a clear focus that lets other people decide if it’s the kind of community they want to join.
To take an example – if you’re looking to create a community of practice for fellow photographers, you’ll probably want to narrow down your domain. Perhaps you’re especially interested in landscapes or you want to create a community of wedding photographers. Maybe you have a passion for a particular type of vintage camera. Whatever it is, it’s helpful to know what your domain is before you start.
If you’re a course creator, the domain for your community of practice will probably be whatever your course is about! If you have an academy, you might like to create separate communities of practice for each of your courses or modules.
2. Define your goals
To give your community of practice a clear aim, it can also be beneficial to define your vision and your goals from the beginning – why are you creating your community of practice? What is the purpose?
If you can generate a set of aims for your community of practice, you can make sure that all your members share your goals. At the same time, you can also decide on a direction for your community of practice, helping to give your community better focus.
3. Get proper introductions from your members
To create the perfect environment that will allow your community of practice to thrive, it’s a good idea to find out the expertise and experience of each of your members.
Encourage members to introduce themselves and provide their background, areas of interest, and relevant experience within the group. You can do this via a survey or interview, or encourage them to post in your online community space.
It can also be helpful to organize an introductory meeting for your members to give them a chance to properly introduce themselves and get to know one another. This is especially useful if you’re starting your community of practice from scratch – don’t underestimate the power of networking for building a strong community.
4. Choose your moderator(s)
To create a community of practice that works well for its members, it can be helpful to elect or appoint a moderator to keep things running smoothly.
A community moderator is a member who monitors the community, organizes events, guides discussions and helps new members find their feet. You can select a moderator yourself (it might even be you!) or you can hold a vote among your existing community members.
The important thing to remember is that your moderator should ideally be someone who has a lot of knowledge and expertise in your chosen domain so that they can do their job effectively.
5. Find your platform
Nowadays, it’s common for communities of practice to be online. Unless you’re all living in the same town, you’ll probably have limited opportunities for face-to-face meetings within your community. This means it’s important to find a platform or channel that works for your members to allow you all to communicate easily.
Social media is a really effective tool for building and maintaining a community of practice. Try creating a Facebook group or choosing a specific hashtag on Instagram or Twitter as a great place to start.
If you’re building a community of practice for your online course or learning academy, Thinkific has built-in features for creating a dedicated community space.
6. Offer resources and support to beginners
A community of practice is organized around a shared interest and desire to learn and improve. Within this concept, there is also the opportunity to help others who are just starting out in your chosen topic or discipline.
To create an impactful community of practice, consider creating or compiling resources that can help starter communities or new members. Use your shared knowledge to teach and inform others with videos, webinars, workbooks and more. After all, learning is at the center of any community of practice!
7. Monitor and modify your community
To keep your community of practice running at the top of its game, it’s a good plan to set up feedback loops. Feedback loops allow you to continue improving your community after you’ve set it up.
You can monitor your community of practice by regularly asking for feedback from members through online surveys. By collating information on the strengths and weaknesses of your community of practice, you can adapt and refine it to create the best possible space. This final step will help your group to stay relevant and make sure it is genuinely valuable to your community.
Now you’ve got a better idea of how to start a community of practice, you probably want to see some examples of communities of practice in action! Check out these examples below.
3 community of practice examples
Creating a community of practice is all about encouraging engagement from your members and empowering others to help you grow your community even bigger. Use these community of practice examples to get inspired and start your own.
Community of practice example 1: Thinkific
Here at Thinkific, we’ve created a community of practice built around our incredible course creators. We have so many inspiring educators and entrepreneurs who use our products every day and our community of practice lets them share, collaborate and grow their businesses together.
Our community of practice includes an enormous range of course creators from all over the world but they share a common goal dedicated to sharing their knowledge through online learning.
Our Online Course Creators community includes a hugely active Facebook Group, as well as events and conferences led by and for course creators. Our community of practice members are also always ready to share their expertise and help others with blog posts, mentorships and more.
Check out some of our success stories in our community of practice here.
Community of practice example 2: 9to5Dropouts
Thinkific course creator Mike Nelson is one of the top examples of successful communities of practice to take a look at. He built an online community around his online course 9to5Dropouts with the hope of helping entrepreneurs start their own t-shirt business and quit their regular job.
At the heart of Mike’s community of practice is his network of coaches who are all past students who have completed his course and built their own businesses. These coaches act as moderators in the group, helping to answer other students’ questions while also hosting weekly live Q&A sessions to share their knowledge.
Mike’s community of practice centers on Facebook and his private group has now grown to over 25,000 people. This community of practice has helped Mike to bump his income up to seven figures and he has plans to scale his online course business even more.
Read the full case study of Mike’s community of practice success here.
Community of practice example 3: Do More With Your Dog
Before creating an online course business with Thinkific, Kyra Sundance was a stunt dog performer. Using her expertise, she founded Do More With Your Dog, now the largest dog trick and fitness titling organization in the world.
At the heart of Kyra’s success is the community of practice she built around her brand. Using Facebook as the foundational platform for the community, Kyra created a huge network of students and course graduates.
But Kyra also took it one step further, creating a global community of certified instructors who have now built their own successful communities of practice centered on her course. Called ‘Spark Teams’ the coaches are rewarded with points when a student joins their Facebook group, encouraging them to stay active and engaged in their communities.
Another brilliant community-building method Kyra and her team employ is monthly challenges for all the individual communities of practice to participate in. This helps to drive up engagement, creating a network of Do More With Your Dog communities of practice across the world.
Find out more about Kyra’s story here.
Ready to start a community of practice?
A community of practice can be started by anyone – all you need is a passion and a platform.
With these community of practice examples fresh in your mind, get ready to start building your own community of practice with Thinkific.