Monday, November 12, 2007

Virtual Worlds and Communities of Practice

A couple of weeks ago I presented in a teleconference organized by CPsquare, a network of people involved in building communities of practice in both public and private organizations*. Etienne Wenger, who first coined the phrase "communities of practice" along with Jean Lave, is also involved in CPsquare. You can find the presentation I used over here. The discussion focused on the relevance of virtual worlds for knowledge-based organizations. The discussion with this group was interesting, but it is also evident that further research and a deeper understanding is necessary to turn these ideas into practice.

Some interesting points from the discussion:
The misfit between the new networking skills (especially prominent in the new generation) and the old organizational structures was acknowledged. Examples were given of young people leaving an organization because of this, which further stresses the need for organizations to better accomodate these new skills.

The possibility of transferring skills that you acquire while playing a game like World of Warcraft to an organizational setting was met with some skepticism. This of course depends on how you view World of Warcraft: is it a "just a game", completely separated from your "real life", or is it one of the many networks in which you participate. Following the lead of people like Marinka Copier, I tend to take the latter approach.

*Thanks, John Smith, for organizing the discussion.


John Smith said...

It was great for you to present, Jeroen. The discussion was far-ranging, but as far as I was concerned, it seems to me that "transfer" is a really poor framework for thinking about learning. I have no doubt that people learn social, emotional, linguistic and (ahem) lots of keyboard skills in immersive environments. With sophisticated environments like WoW and the organizations in which we work, why settle for a primitive understanding of learning?

Jeroen said...

I agree that the concept of transfer is problematic. Maybe it is just the word that is wrong. What we are actually trying to do is see which mechanisms are at work in a virtual world to see if similar mechanisms can be found or applied in organizations. And I suspect that the mechanisms we uncover will be quite sophisticated.