In summary…

As a theory communities of practice (COP) helps support the idea that learning is a process rather than a product. If working effectively, a COP does not need a fixed curriculum nor a hierarchy of teacher or student. It requires people in a collective endeavour to share stories and try new things.

From my perspective, higher education does not seem the most easy place to introduce a COP. This is for two reasons: structure and individualism. In my experience higher education tends to be a tremendously structured environment. Courses have a defined curriculum which specifies learning outcomes, learning and teaching methods and assessment processes. These are introduced to ensure that students are offered a positive student experience and to safeguard the quality of awards. Educators would have to be tremendously confident about the merits of unstructured methodologies such as COP to strip away the scaffolding around their offers and, even if they were, it is by no means certain that students would be equally willing to take that risk.

Equally, the individual nature of higher education could work against the collective ethos required for a COP to flourish. I am assessed on my work. You are assessed on yours. The bonds between students may be great but the system in which they operate discourages the pursuit of common goals. However, these are as much practical concerns as they are theoretical ones. Possibly more so.

Perhaps, as the authors suggest, we should look outside education to see how COP can best work. Take the Games Company Valve for example, whose Handbook for New Employees was recently leaked. It describes a flat structure where individual employees have no fixed job title and who can pick and choose what project they work on (to emphasise that fact, all desks have wheels on them). Among other triumphs, Valve made the astonishingly wonderful games Portal & Portal 2, thereby proving that something is going right. It’s like having your cake and eating it. PS: the cake is a lie.

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